More cars, more congestion
Conventional wisdom suggests all the travel trauma on Highway 82 is forcing people out of their vehicles, right? Wrong.
“Traffic volume is at levels that no one’s seen,” said Stan Berryman, Pitkin County public works director. “It’s unexplainable.”
Berryman, the county’s supervisor of the roundabout project, said construction delays are obviously contributing to congestion in and out of Aspen on the highway. But some of the congestion is simply due to the number of vehicles clogging a two-lane road, he said.
Statistics haven’t been tabulated yet for July, but Berryman said it’s his gut feeling that the amount of traffic increased compared to historic levels for the month.
Last July, the average daily traffic count on the Castle Creek bridge was nearly 29,000 vehicles, according to statistics kept by the city of Aspen. August is almost as busy with about 27,200 vehicles counted on the bridge daily.
Traffic volumes tend to slack off in September, but that may be little consolation to locals this year. Congestion around the Maroon/Castle Creek roundabout will likely get worse before it gets better.
The construction phasing plan calls for the northern two lanes of the roundabout to be completed on or around Aug. 23. For the following two months, Berryman said, eastbound and westbound traffic will use the northern half of the roundabout.
In other words, for the months of September and October, two-way traffic will use one-half of the roundabout.
“It’s going to create problems. I won’t mince words,” said Berryman.
The southern half of the roundabout is supposed to be finished in early November.
School starts about the same time Berryman expects the congestion problems to peak. Since so many parents refuse to make their kids take the bus, the congestion will be exacerbated by vehicles turning off the highway onto Maroon Creek Road.
It’s a problem the school board has searched in vain to ease for years.
“We have thought this could be really bad this year,” said Alice Davis, president of the Aspen School District’s Board of Education. “We have to do something.”
School traffic will contend not only with the roundabout construction but with work on the Moore family subdivision near the campus as well, she noted.
School district officials are taking steps to try to ease traffic. The most significant proposal is to charge high school students a fee for parking. No plan has been finalized but it will likely be attempted this school year, Davis said.
The school district has already launched a major letter-writing campaign laying out the problems for parents and urging them to have their kids ride the bus.
Davis said school traffic doesn’t contribute that much to afternoon congestion. School is out at 3:30 p.m., when fewer parents can make the trip to pick up kids. Plus, students are engaged in a variety of activities so there isn’t as great a concentration as there is in the morning.
She’s worried about the morning rush-hour congestion.
The Pitkin County commissioners, Aspen City Council and school board are scheduled to discuss a variety of issues Monday at a joint meeting. It’s a safe assumption that traffic will come up.
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Looking for alternative to I-70 closures, truckers are ignoring numerous warning signs to attempt the narrow, treacherous road that goes over Independence Pass east of Aspen.