Misinformation from CDOT
Dear Editor:From the perspective of benefits to the public, there is a huge practical difference in whether the new Entrance to Aspen is expanded to add two HOV lanes regulated like the ones between Basalt and Buttermilk, or two lanes reserved exclusively for buses (BRT) or light rail (LRT). It is the difference between eliminating huge traffic backups or not, and whether the entire traveling public, or only those who use public transit, benefit from the improvements.From a governmental process perspective, the difference between the BRT/LRT “preferred alternative” and the HOV lane option is nearly nonexistent, which makes it more than peculiar that the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) claims that only the BRT/LRT idea can be reevaluated in the process currently under way.For most practical purposes, the reevaluation of light rail is also, simultaneously, a reevaluation of HOV lanes. In a four-page document where CDOT uses 10 individual “project objectives” to evaluate the BRT/LRT, there are only a few instances where HOV lanes would produce different conclusions.Some exceptions:1. “The Preferred Alternative provides the flexibility to implement an interim transit solution (bus rapid transit), while preserving the right of way for an ultimate LRT system.”The only reason this would not be equally true of HOV lanes is because the Aspen City Council chose to build the new Maroon Creek Bridge at a width too narrow to accommodate both a four-lane highway and light rail track. LRT isn’t going to be built anyway, so this is hardly relevant.2. “However, as predicted, congestion on Highway 82 continues to increase (peak hour counts are higher, and higher counts occur more often than in 1994), and will continue to increase until more person-trips are transferred to high-capacity transit vehicles (buses or LRT).”Please note that there is no suggestion in the statement above that there will be any reduction in the current level of congestion on Highway 82 with either buses or LRT. Congestion at the Entrance to Aspen would be reduced by increasing capacity with a four-lane highway, and would obviously be a superior choice for that reason, but only if congestion reduction were one of the project objectives. Reducing congestion at the Entrance to Aspen is not one of the 10 project objectives, and BRT/LRT is not intended to achieve that result.The Aspen City Council is trying to block a binding vote on an HOV option for the Entrance to Aspen in order to avoid voter approval of a new preferred alternative, and, by default, a change in policy to favor reducing congestion through highway improvements.One of the displays at the recent Entrance to Aspen open house presentation explains that, according to CDOT, if you want to support an alternative other than BRT/LRT it will require a two-year Supplemental EIS process at a cost of $2 million. If it were really necessary, that would actually be a bargain, but the truth is, nearly all of the work required to prepare the four-lane HOV option for funding is being performed in the course of the current reevaluation.The unavoidable question is this: Why is CDOT exaggerating procedural requirements, ignoring court decisions and federal regulations, misreading community preferences, refusing to acknowledge factual errors made in the original EIS process, and producing evasive and deceptively worded public documents in order to protect an Aspen City Council policy which could change the moment a new council is elected?This is the central mystery of the whole affair, and the folks at CDOT might want to ask themselves just what the devil it is they think they’re doing.Jeffrey EvansBasalt
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