Paving Owl Creek gets another look |

Paving Owl Creek gets another look

To pave or not to pave?

The perennial question of whether or not to pave Owl Creek Road came up again in Pitkin County’s annual fall budget talks.

County commissioners, after lengthy discussions last month, directed Public Works staffers to proceed with geotechnical studies as a first step to paving a major portion of the road.

Commissioner Shellie Roy Harper said Thursday the issue was moved to the front burner by a letter the board received from Owl Creek Homeowners Association President George Schifrin, calling for more frequent maintenance on the road. Harper said the county now spends $50,000 per mile annually maintaining the three-mile road, which links Highway 82 near the airport to Snowmass Village. By comparison, the county spends $8,000 per mile annually on Brush Creek Road, she said.

The mostly-gravel Owl Creek Road is a shortcut between Aspen and Snowmass; Brush Creek is the paved, longer route.

Talk of paving Owl Creek has proved controversial in the past. Owl Creek residents have staunchly opposed paving, contending it would bring more traffic to the road. Others, who favor paving, cite safety, dust and maintenance expenses.

Public Works Director Stan Berryman said the portion of the road being studied for paving includes perhaps four-tenths of a mile of previously paved road and just over a mile of badly degraded pavement. The whole stretch extends from behind the airport to the East Owl Creek homeowners’ gate, Berryman said. The rest of the road from that point to Sinclair Divide, including the long straightaway, would remain unpaved.

Berryman said if the county decides to attack the project, the cost – roughly $500,000 – would be covered by $188,000 from a Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) grant plus whatever additional funding was necessary from the $530,000 remaining from the county’s use tax, which expired at the end of last year. Use tax funds must be spent on roads.

The city of Aspen and Pitkin County decided to split a $376,000 CMAQ grant, federal funding distributed by the state of Colorado, this year. The Owl Creek project would qualify as air-quality mitigation, Berryman said, because paving would reduce particulate pollution from road dust.

The CMAQ funds must be committed to a project by next summer, Berryman said, or the grant will be withdrawn.

Much of the expense, perhaps 75 to 80 percent, would be in building drainage systems and creating a graded base for the road, Berryman said. Several springs which frequently erode large holes in the gravel surface would have to be drained into culverts before paving work could be done. The final paving would be a chip-and-seal coating.

The commissioners, with the exception of Mick Ireland, supported paving the section of road. Harper said she was swayed by seeing the condition of a wetland area along the road, which she said is clogged with gravel washed from the road. If gravel is washed in there, she said, one can safely assume that the huge quantities of magnesium chloride used for dust control on the road also end up in the wetland.

“For us to put more gravel and more magnesium chloride on that section was just going to exacerbate the situation,” Harper said.

Harper said the chip-and-seal surface could be allowed to deteriorate back to an unpaved condition if public sentiment demands it.

Ireland, who opposes the paving, said paving the road would increase traffic speeds and increase demand for even more improvements. He said traffic will probably decrease significantly on Owl Creek Road in a week or two, when the new lanes are opened on Highway 82 through the Shale Bluffs area.

With the four-lane completed, Ireland said, Brush Creek Road may actually be the faster route between Snowmass Village and Aspen, discouraging use of Owl Creek as a short cut.

“At a time when the county is struggling to do basic upkeep of existing roads, I don’t think adding to the road system is warranted,” he said.

Ireland said less maintenance money could probably be spent on Owl Creek after the new lanes through Shale Bluffs open, because it wouldn’t be necessary to keep the road “rock hard, track fast.”

Berryman said the issue will be back before the commissioners for more discussion and public hearings next year. “It’s something we need to take back for some further public review,” he said. Input from neighborhood caucuses and Snowmass Village is essential, he added.

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