Entrance to Aspen construction a test in patience in first month
With a month of construction under their belts, city engineers working on the Castle Creek Bridge project are learning a lot about human behavior.
Just when traffic starts to smooth out, a new detour will be put into place and havoc begins again.
City engineer Trish Aragon said when the project first started April 2, there was about a 10 percent reduction in traffic, which means commuters took the warnings to carpool or take the bus seriously.
But as the weeks went on and the detour route remained relatively steady, people got back in their cars and traffic levels are creeping back up.
“There are a lot of single-occupant vehicles,” project manager Pete Rice said. “It takes two days for people to change behavior.”
When the detour changed at the end of last week, traffic in the West End neighborhood got snarled up, and there were up to hourlong delays for inbound vehicles at the beginning of this week.
“It took 10 minutes on the bus,” Aragon said.
Traffic coming into town is still being held so RFTA and school buses can get in and out quickly. Project managers realized that holding vehicles at the roundabout for school buses — which there are about 30 traveling at the same time when school begins and ends — made traffic flow better coming down from Maroon Creek Road.
But parents and students are still driving to campus, and they are sitting in traffic as far back as the airport.
“Parents have had a rough couple of days,” Rice said Wednesday from the job site. “People were used to coming in easy.”
And the detour changes again today. Inbound traffic will no longer go straight on Hallam to Sixth Street. Instead, motorists will follow the normal S-curve that turns into Main Street. Outbound traffic will continue to turn right on Sixth Street from Main Street and head to Smuggler and then to Power Plant Road. However, at night, outbound traffic will go over the bridge via Sixth Street to Smuggler and then to Eighth Street.
Aragon is urging outbound traffic to use both lanes on Main Street until they are forced into one near Sixth Street. It’s called “zippering.”
“Traffic will flow better if you zipper,” she said.
Today’s detour change will remain in effect until the project is put on hold in mid-June. It will resume sometime in August and finish in October.
Currently, the bus stops that were at Eighth Street have been moved to Fourth and Main streets. When the project is put on hold this summer, the bus stop will be moved to Seventh Street, Aragon said.
The project’s intent is to improve the Entrance to Aspen corridor with a wider sidewalk on the north side of the bridge, new bus shelters at Seventh and Eighth streets, along with better crosswalks and a resurfaced road. Aspen City Council approved the $4.6 million project in January.
Aragon and Rice explained that the reason the city is paying for the project instead of the Colorado Department of Transportation or the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority is because both of those agencies have limited funds. They’d prefer that CDOT use its money to improve other portions of Main Street, and the city wants control over the bus shelter design and its corridor.
“It’s part of the infrastructure of the city,” Rice said.
Aragon said in the next few days, the asphalt will be torn up on the bridge and the condition of what’s underneath will determine the fall schedule.
As they found with the area near the S-curves, the underground utilities and infrastructure were in rough shape. It was replaced, along with an electrical conduit that ended up costing the homeowners association at the nearby Red House affordable housing complex thousands of dollars. Rice said when crews dug up the road, they discovered the electrical feed to the complex was just slightly under the asphalt surface and had significant damage. The city and the HOA are figuring out the cost split of that improvement.
“They’d have to do it at some point and it would be costly,” Rice said. “Now they don’t have to get a permit and go into the right of way. … It just didn’t make sense not to do it.”
Red House HOA president Mark Borderick said it was an unexpected cost for their “little, poor, affordable-housing complex” but he appreciates the city’s gesture.
As some of the closest residents to the project, Borderick said, “for what they are doing, it’s been pretty good.”
Rice — who has gotten his fair share of criticism lately from residents and the business community for this project and other proposed ones — received some accolades at Monday’s City Council meeting for being responsive to concerns.
But back at the job site, Rice has taken some abuse, with people driving by yelling expletives at him, and a woman who lives on Hallam Street demanding that he — or someone from the city — clean up her cat’s vomit, which was induced by the project.
“I said no to that,” he said.
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Local housing officials in Aspen and Pitkin County are asking for feedback from the public before they start making changes to the rules on over 3,000 units in the upper valley.