Pitkin commissioners approve projects, ballot question
Pitkin County commissioners approved, or preliminarily approved, three large projects and a ballot question at Wednesday’s regular board meeting.
The first was a $414,000 study that will look at the details of using buses or light rail across the Marolt Open Space to possibly resolve the long-simmering debate about the Entrance to Aspen. The allocation also includes an extra $70,000 for a separate portion of the study that calls for gathering anonymous cellphone data regarding people’s transportation habits.
The Elected Officials Transportation Committee, which includes members of the Pitkin County board, the Aspen City Council and the Snowmass Village Town Council, approved funding the study at a meeting last month. Each individual board must approve the expenditures. The City Council approved the money Monday.
Commissioner Patti Clapper reiterated that she only supports looking into the Entrance to Aspen options at this point.
“I’m not supporting light rail at this time,” she said.
Commissioner George Newman praised the fact that elected officials are trying to solve the transportation problem together rather than merely leaving it to city of Aspen officials. Commissioner Steve Child urged inclusion of emerging technologies in the study, though Commissioner Rachel Richards cautioned against trying to solve “today’s problems with tomorrow’s solutions.”
The study, which aims to find a solution to the gridlock traffic that routinely plagues the S-curves at Aspen’s westside entrance, should take about 10 months to complete.
In other commissioner news
The second approval Wednesday was a resolution authorizing the county to spend $770,000 to build in-channel structures or “wave features” in the Roaring Fork River in Basalt above the confluence with the Fryingpan River. The features would create channels for kayakers and paddleboarders to ride in a whitewater park currently known as the Pitkin County River Park Project.
The structures are allowed under a rare water right called a recreational in-channel diversion, which allows water to flow into the site during high water times of the year.
Commissioners praised the tourism aspects of the whitewater park but emphasized the main motivation behind the project is to utilize the water right and keep water in the Roaring Fork River and unavailable to other entities.
Both of those projects were approved after just a single reading Wednesday.
A third project, which is scheduled for a public hearing Aug. 24, is an agreement with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and the Town of Basalt to build a pedestrian underpass under Highway 82 at Basalt Avenue. The $7.14 million project has been a priority for Basalt officials for years, though money for it has been hard to find.
However, Basalt Town Manager Mike Scanlon was able to put together funding for the project, which is scheduled to begin in September and last until summer 2017. The town is spending about $3 million for it, while federal grants will cover $2.3 million. Pitkin County Open Space and Trails and the Elected Officials Transportation Committee will kick in $1.4 million and RFTA will contribute $500,000.
RFTA and Piktin County officials will oversee the underpass project.
Finally, commissioners approved a ballot question for the November election asking voters to approve a reauthorization of the county’s open space property tax. The 3.75 mill levy would be renewed for another 20 years if voters give the thumbs up. A public hearing on that question also will be held Aug. 24 during the board’s regular weekly meeting.
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Facing a nearly more than $700,000 shortfall in transportation funding, Upper Roaring Fork Valley elected officials decided to dip into their savings account to continue all funding commitments for a year.