News flash: dirt in Aspen is expensive |

News flash: dirt in Aspen is expensive

Aspen Times Staff Report

That’s why the Colorado Department of Transportation has been willing to let a small mountain of it sit at the intersection of Brush Creek Road and Highway 82 since the work on Shale Bluffs was completed last year.

The 100,545 cubic yards of dirt is worth $600,000, according to CDOT engineer Joe Elsen, and will eventually be moved down to the Snowmass Canyon project, thus saving money for that section of the highway-widening project.

The 45-foot-high mound of dirt has been dubbed “Mount Elsen” by some CDOT employees and “Mount Trapani” by some frequent highway travelers in honor of Ralph Trapani, the CDOT engineer who has overseen both the Glenwood Canyon and the Highway 82 expansion projects.

“Mount CDOT” might be the most appropriate, or at least the most fair to the individual highway engineers.

“I noticed that pile of dirt down there,” said Snowmass Village Mayor T. Michael Manchester. “It’s big. I assumed they had a plan.”

They do. But it’s on a glacial time frame.

The dirt, the result of extensive drainage work done as part of highway improvements at the Shale Bluffs curves, will make for high-quality road base in Snowmass Canyon and will be moved truckload by truckload downvalley.

“It’s good granular gravel,” said Elsen, who is the resident engineer in charge of highway improvements from Snowmass Canyon and above. “It is good embankment material and has excellent engineering characteristics.”

But moving the mountain will take time.

The Snowmass Canyon project is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2005. If the contractor, Ames Construction, finishes the job by the fall of 2004, they will receive a $500,000 incentive payment.

Ames is required to move the dirt before the end of the project, but Elsen isn’t sure when they might need it.

“They might want to use it for something right away, or they may not use it until the end of the project,” said Elsen.

And it’s not as if Ames won’t be moving a fair amount of dirt already.

In all, the $100 million Snowmass Canyon project will involve moving over half-a-million cubic feet of dirt and building six bridges and 41 different retaining walls. Some of the walls will be 38 feet tall.

Crews have begun “pioneering” a road on the bench above the existing two-lane road, where eventually two more lanes of pavement will be opened to valley drivers. The first dirt-moving next to the existing lanes is under way.

CDOT is currently working on expanding portions of Lower River Road to accommodate more traffic there.

In May, downvalley traffic from about milepost 31 may be rerouted off Highway 82 to Lower River Road via Gerbaz Drive from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. That will allow construction crews to take over the mountainside lane through Snowmass Canyon.

The riverside lane will normally be left open for upvalley traffic throughout the day, and upvalley traffic will not be stopped before 9 a.m. CDOT will also be discouraging motorists from using Lower River Road as an alternative access to Aspen from downvalley. The road will be signed for resident traffic only in an effort to minimize conflict with the increased amount of traffic coming downvalley on the detour.

Once Mount CDOT is trucked downvalley and removed from the state property, it’s unclear what will rise up in its place.

Various ideas have floated for use of that site through the years, including everything from a retail store, a place for a light rail system to cross the river, or a new headquarters for the U.S. Forest Service.

Elsen pointed out that there are a variety of ongoing planning exercises that could ultimately determine the fate of the parcel.

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