Pitkin County official: USA Pro Challenge will bring some headaches to Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County official: USA Pro Challenge will bring some headaches to Aspen

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times

During an update for the Aspen City Council on plans for the USA Pro Challenge bike race, Pitkin County Commissioner Rob Ittner spoke up about some of the negative aspects of the event.

Noting several times that he supports the seven-stage professional cycling race — which kicks off with a circuit race looping three times between Aspen and Snowmass Village on Aug. 19 — Ittner told council members it was also important to minimize its impacts.

Road closures are being planned in the city and throughout the area on Aug. 19 and also on Aug. 20, when the cyclists leave Aspen to climb Independence Pass on their route to Breckenridge. Those closures present various safety concerns, Ittner said, such as access to Aspen Valley Hospital.

Ittner, owner of Rustique Bistro on Monarch Street, said he was speaking for himself and also relaying concerns from members of the community and not commenting on behalf of the Board of County Commissioners.

“The message right now … is that roads are closed from noon to 4 p.m. (on Aug. 19), and there will be limited access to the hospital and the airport,” he said. “The problem I have in talking to (hospital officials) is 70 to 90 percent of the people that visit our emergency room visit not in an emergency vehicle. They have someone drive them there.

“What is the message that we’re giving to those people? I’m not totally clear on this. Is the message, call 911? If you don’t have insurance, you’re going to be paying for an ambulance. Or is the message, break through any barrier and just (say), ‘I’m going to the hospital; let me through’?”

The Aug. 19 route makes use of Main Street, Highway 82, Owl Creek Road, Brush Creek Road, McLain Flats Road and Cemetery Lane. Previously, the route included a bridge over Maroon Creek in the Tiehack area, but those plans were discarded after race organizers deemed that bridge’s guardrails presented a safety issue, leaving planners to bring more of Highway 82 into the mix.

Ittner also said he had concerns about the effect on local business. In the race’s first two years, 2011 and 2012, a majority of local business owners and managers surveyed by the city said they supported the event, although many added that the race has a negative effect on sales.

“The reality is that I am stopped on the street and getting emails from business people saying they are shutting down their business for that day,” he said. “Physical therapists, doctors, lawyers, bankers, all those people are stopping doing business on that day because people can’t get into town.”

He said that visitors needing to fly out from the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport that afternoon will need to arrive at the facility many hours in advance.

“I’m in support of this race, and the benefits far outweigh the struggles that we’re going to see,” Ittner said. “But I’m not going to sugarcoat it. This race is challenging. This race is going to cause havoc that day. This race is going to have people staying home as opposed to working, from an economic standpoint.”

Nancy Lesley, the city’s director of special events, said there definitely will be impacts, and event organizers have never denied that.

“If you can do something Monday morning, if you can do it Monday night, if you can do it Tuesday, if you can do it Sunday, you’re going to be much better off,” she said. “Trying to get somewhere Monday between noon and 4 p.m. — if you are within the race corridor — it’s going to be either very frustrating (or) take you a long time. … There are so many factors that can go into what could possibly happen that afternoon.”

She said her efforts up until race day would continue to be directed toward getting the message out about street closures and safety options.