North 40 traffic plan still up in the air | AspenTimes.com

North 40 traffic plan still up in the air

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The Pitkin County commissioners decided Wednesday not to redirect traffic bound for the Airport Business Center through the North 40 neighborhood. But the decision was considered only a partial victory for neighborhood residents.

The commissioners authorized about $50,000 in improvements to the intersection of Highway 82 and Baltic Way, the longtime access to the ABC. But they declined to abandon the possibility of moving the traffic light and intersection about 400 feet downvalley at some point in the future, as North 40 residents had hoped.

Asked if yesterday’s decision felt like a victory, North 40 resident Jackie Francis replied frankly. “No, it doesn’t,” she said. “But I’m cautiously optimistic.”

Francis has spent the past 18 months fighting a plan to divert almost all of the traffic heading in and out of the ABC on to Front Way, an internal road at the North 40 that runs directly past her home.

Francis and other residents in the four-year-old subdivision convinced the county to take a second look at the access plans for the business center, which is right next door to their neighborhood. They were spurred to act in November 2000 after the owner of the Amoco gas station at the business center applied to relocate from his current location at Baltic Way and Highway 82 to what he expected to be the new primary access at Front Way.

“We thought the intersection relocation was a requirement of the subdivision approval,” Chris Smith said.

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The commissioners held on to the possibility of connecting Front Way to the highway in spite of an exhaustive study by a traffic engineering firm that found it wasn’t necessary. After three long meetings with those affected by the intersection, the engineers concluded that with the addition of another lane, the existing intersection at Baltic Way could handle the increased traffic after the North 40 is built out.

The commissioners said they wanted to wait for construction at the North 40 to finish and see if the engineers were actually right. They also worried that ongoing development at the county airport would force them to open Front Way access at Highway 82.

A big part of the commissioners’ decision yesterday was based on the fact that the county would have to refund $200,000 plus interest to North 40 developer John McBride.

McBride was required to pay the money as part of the mitigation plan of the North 40 subdivision approval. The approval requires the money be spent on the new intersection at Front Way; it cannot be used to make improvements at Baltic Way.

If the commissioners abandon all plans for an intersection at Front Way and refund McBride’s money, it won’t be available if it turns out that the intersection relocation is actually necessary. The county will either have to foot the bill itself or work out some other mitigation fee.

McBride said that in addition to the $200,000 deposit, he spent about $85,000 acquiring the right-of-way easement and other property needed to make the new intersection viable.

McBride suggested the county refund the money for Front Way and bill him for a quarter of the cost of improving the Baltic Way intersection. He also said he would be willing to negotiate an agreement that requires him to pay for a percentage of the improvements at Front Way and Highway 82 if it is opened up.

McBride owns two developable lots at what would be the corner of Highway 82 and Front Way, and he pointed out the county could extract traffic mitigation fees when they are developed.

Gas station owner Smith said his application to relocate and expand his gas station on one of McBride’s Front Way lots is still pending. He said he had not filed a lawsuit against the county for changing its mind, and he expects to work something out without having to go to court.

The county attorney and McBride’s representatives are likely to meet soon to discuss the fate of the $200,000.

[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is aharvey@aspentimes.com]

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