New bridge must incorporate transit
Has it really come to the point where the Colorado Department of Transportation is willing to forgo a bevy of public transit options in and out of Aspen simply to save a few million dollars?CDOT officials conceded this week that they are looking into simply replacing the existing bridge over Maroon Creek with an essentially identical two-lane span. The reason behind this idea is to save the $2 million to $3 million it would cost to update the 1998 environmental impact statement and record of decision for the Entrance to Aspen.That document calls for a bridge with two lanes for general traffic, two transit lanes (preferably rail, but possibly bus) and additional room for a bicycle lane. Federal regulations allow the bridge to be replaced without a new EIS. The new report is only necessary if a larger bridge, as envisioned in 1998, is built.A lot of things have changed since 1998. At that time Aspen was poised to install a light-rail system from the airport to the center of town and straighten the highway across the Marolt Open Space. Voters have since rejected both a light-rail financing plan and the proposal to reroute the highway. So it’s understandable why CDOT would consider the idea of simply replacing the century-old bridge with an identical new one.But it would be a monumental error to spend tens of millions of dollars on a new bridge that does nothing to expand the upper valley’s transit options.The issue isn’t whether one likes or dislikes the idea of light rail or rerouting the highway. The real issue is whether we are getting the bridge needed to serve us well into the future. The new Maroon Creek Bridge, whatever form it takes, must accommodate traffic, transit and bicycles.Yes, CDOT is strapped for cash. But going with the two-lane status quo over Maroon Creek could cost the community much more in the long run, both in cash and quality of life, than the money saved to avoid updating the EIS. After all, did we really build 14 miles of HOV lanes only to meet a permanent bottleneck at Maroon Creek?The fact is, residents of Aspen and Pitkin County like public transit.Buses have been running up and down the valley for the better part of the last three decades, thanks in large part to the generosity of Aspen and Pitkin County taxpayers. The Roaring Fork Transit Agency is now the second-largest public transportation system in the state, and it makes no sense to build a new Maroon Creek Bridge without incorporating public transit.Updating the EIS will take both money and time. It will mean hundreds of thousands more vehicle-trips across an aging bridge. But the replacement of the Maroon Creek Bridge should be done once, and done correctly.
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A recent economic impact study on the arts and culture industry in Pitkin County shows that it brought over $450 million to the community in jobs and spending in 2019. What does that mean for the post-pandemic world?