Pitkin County Open Space Board: $400k for underpass | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County Open Space Board: $400k for underpass

Pitkin County’s Open Space and Trails Board on Thursday recommended kicking in $400,000 to help fund a multimillion-dollar pedestrian underpass in Basalt.

The $400,000 of county open space funds would have to be approved by Pitkin County commissioners, who also will be asked to contribute an additional $750,000 to $1 million for the project, said Basalt Town Manager Mike Scanlon.

The Basalt Town Council has designated the underpass a priority because of the amount of pedestrian traffic crossing Highway 82 at Basalt Avenue, the main intersection in the town. The highway essentially splits the town in half, forcing pedestrians going from one side to the other onto the Roaring Fork Valley’s major thoroughfare.

The town has raised $6.5 million so far — including $3 million of its own money — and is still short $1.4 million, according to a memo from Open Space and Trails Director Dale Will.

When the project was put out to bid in the summer, the lowest bid came in at $7.2 million. However, town officials now expect that to be closer to $8 million because of project engineering, construction and inspections costs, Scanlon said Thursday.

Town officials currently are accepting new bids for the project through March 11 and hope to have a solid number by March 18 to present to Pitkin County commissioners, Scanlon said. The underpass will be located in Pitkin County.

Will told open space board members Thursday he was in favor of contributing the $400,000 and that the open space program can afford it without affecting other projects.

“Given the size of this request, I’m confident in recommending that we can absorb this … without having to shelve anything (or) delay anything,” he said.

Will also pointed out that the open space board has come to Basalt in the past for help in acquiring or managing midvalley open space and trails, and the town has always been receptive.

Board member Tim McFlynn agreed with Will, saying Basalt officials have often agreed to help with open space issues. He also quoted the board’s home rule charter as instructing the board to provide access to and from recreational or urban destinations.

The proposed underpass would link three of the open space program’s most significant trails, including the Rio Grande, Basalt-Old Snowmass and Emma trails, according to Will’s memo.

Board member Graeme Means proclaimed himself “100 percent” in support of the project and said he’d even be willing to chip in more money — perhaps another $50,000 — to ensure that those trails are properly connected to the underpass.

“I’m glad this is happening,” Means said.

Other board members were concerned about the skyrocketing cost of the project, which was originally estimated to cost $3 million.

Tai Jacober, for example, said he found the increase “shocking.” And board Chairman Howie Mallory wondered aloud, “What’s the top?”

“Will you be coming back (for more money)?” Mallory asked. “What’s your backup plan if the bid comes in at $9 million?”

Scanlon said the main problem with the original bid was underestimating the issues presented by the high water table and the amount of mitigation that will require.

“Did they know there was a river nearby?” McFlynn asked after Scanlon’s explanation.

Denise Latousek, a Basalt resident and parent, told board members about the stress caused by simply crossing the street. With the high school on one side and trails on the other, she said she worried about kids, athletes and the elderly.

“You can feel the tension while you’re waiting to cross,” Latousek said. “And cars are just waiting to run you over.”

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