McLain project likely to spur Aspen summer traffic woes

Brace yourselves, Aspen, because this summer’s traffic just got worse.

Most of McLain Flats Road — the pressure valve that traditionally provides some relief to commuters hoping to avoid Highway 82 gridlock — will be torn up and reduced to one lane from April to October, a county official said Tuesday.

“This is what we’re trying to gear up for this summer on McLain Flats,” Pitkin County Engineer G.R. Fielding told commissioners Tuesday, noting that between 3,400 and 3,500 cars use the back road between Aspen and Woody Creek each summer day.

The season-long construction project by Black Hills Energy to install a second gas line into Aspen also means more bad news for road bikers this summer, Fielding said.

“Most of the popular cycling routes (around Aspen) will be affected this year,” he said.

That summer work will include two projects on Castle Creek Road, two projects on Maroon Creek Road and one on Gerbaz Way in Woody Creek, Fielding said. The county also will close one lane of Owl Creek Road — the back way to Snowmass Village — for drainage improvements from roughly May 6 to June 14, he said.

“It’s gonna be easier to tell people where we’re not working than where we are,” Fielding told commissioners Tuesday.

The longest and most impactful of them all, however, will be the McLain Flats project, he said.

Black Hills Energy wants to install 2½ miles of 6-inch gas utility line under and along McLain Flats Road from the triangle intersection of Smith Way, McLain Flats and Upper River Road in Woody Creek to Trentaz Drive, Fielding said. For the first 4,000 feet of the project — where McLain Flats winds up a steep hill heading up to the flat section of the road — the utility company must rip up the asphalt and install the line under the road bed, he said.

That’s because there’s no more room on the road’s shoulder for utility lines, Fielding said.

After that initial 4,000 feet, work will move to the shoulder for the remainder of the installation, he said. The utility expects to finish between 80 and 100 feet of gas line per day when working in the roadway, and between 100 and 120 feet per day when working on the shoulder, Fielding said.

“That’s gonna be a big one,” Fielding said of the project.

While the county has not issued a permit yet, Black Hills wants to start construction April 16 and expects it to last until Oct. 18, Fielding said. He expected the permit to be issued shortly.

Black Hills has already built sections of the gas line on either side of this summer’s project, making this the final piece to the project, he said. It is meant to provide “redundancy” and “resiliency” to Aspen’s main gas line in case an emergency forces a main line shutdown.

The traffic control plan calls for work to begin at 9 a.m. after the morning rush that generally starts at 7 a.m. Flaggers will direct traffic between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., when work is scheduled to stop each day, Fielding said.

After that, portable traffic signals will direct one lane of traffic at a time at night, he said.

Commissioner George Newman asked if the McLain Flats project might allow for construction of a much-talked about bike lane along the scenic road. Fielding, however, said construction, especially up the hill from Smith Way, could get tricky and expensive because of lack of room and construction of a bike lane platform.

Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury suggested installing fiber optic cable while the road is torn up. Fielding said he’d check into it, but noted space issues could prohibit such work.

The Woody Creek Caucus is set to hear a presentation on the project March 28.

The other projects likely to affect both bikers and drivers this summer include the 1-mile Castle Creek Trail construction from the Marolt housing to the Aspen Music School campus, continuing fiber optic installation up Castle Creek Road and the construction of two retaining walls on Maroon Creek Road near Aspen Highlands and the T-Lazy 7 Ranch, Fielding said.