Pitkin County puts another $1 million into underpass project

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Image courtesy of Pitkin County

ASPEN – Pitkin County commissioners bit the bullet Tuesday and agreed to put another $1 million into building a Highway 82 underpass between the Aspen Business Center and Aspen-Pitkin County Airport.

On Thursday, elected officials from Aspen and Snowmass Village will be asked to do the same.

Roughly another $2 million beyond what was budgeted is necessary after bids for the project came in substantially higher than what County Manager Jon Peacock called “really botched” estimates provided by Parsons Transportation, the firm hired to do the engineering and design work for the underpass.

Based on bids submitted by three Front Range contractors, the project cost is now pegged at $5.4 million.

While there have been changes to the project, underestimating the cost of the work has been an ongoing problem, said Brian Pettet, county director of public works.

Those problems aside, Peacock urged the three commissioners present – George Newman, Rob Ittner and Steve Child – to consider the merits of the project in deciding whether or not to proceed. Had the project cost had been accurately estimated at $5.4 million from the get-go, would commissioners want to move forward, he asked.

“This is a go or no-go decision,” Peacock said.

Construction is slated this year in conjunction with the installation of new Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus stops on either side of the highway, adjacent to the underpass.

There may be an opportunity to save money by rolling the bus stops and underpass into one project, which is the intention, and there’s a chance some airport dollars could be allocated to the work, commissioners were told. But to start, an additional $1,025,000 for the underpass will come from the county’s capital projects fund and the replacement of the upper bridge on Castle Creek Road will be delayed until 2018.

The bridge, nine miles up the road from Highway 82, needs to be replaced, but not immediately, Pettet said.

“It’s not in imminent danger of falling down by any stretch of the imagination,” he said.

The Elected Officials Transportation Committee, made up of elected officials from Aspen, Pitkin County and Snowmass Village, will convene at a special meeting Thursday to consider allocating an additional $1,025,000 in capital funds controlled by the group to the project. That would mean the EOTC puts up roughly $2 million, the county spends about $1.5 million and the Colorado Department of Transportation provides $1.5 million, Pettet said.

“These are big dollars,” Ittner said, questioning what could be done to the existing, at-grade pedestrian crossing at the airport/business center intersection with the highway to make it safe. Stopping traffic in all directions to allow pedestrian movements would be the answer, Pettet said.

However, a number of pedestrians choose to dash between the bus stops, which are located upvalley from the intersection. The underpass would go in that location, ideally providing a safe crossing and making it easier for airline passengers to get to and from the airport by bus.

All three commissioners voiced support for going forward despite the higher price tag for the underpass, some more grudgingly than others.

It’s a long-term solution to a safety problem, Newman reasoned.

“I’m in favor of this project, it’s just a very tough decision to make,” Ittner said. “I’m not going to let it slide as any easy decision at all.”

“My gut feeling is we need to bite the bullet on this,” Child said.