Pitkin County ready to pave Owl Creek Road
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Work is expected to begin as soon as today on paving the last unpaved section of Owl Creek Road, nearly four decades after the idea was first floated.
With two major projects planned in Snowmass Village, the Pitkin County commissioners took a defensive posture in authorizing the roadwork, setting weight limits designed to protect the road from heavy construction vehicles.
Crews from Elam Construction are expected to begin preliminary work today on a summer-long project that may end up closing the road altogether.
Closing the 1.3-mile section of road could speed up work considerably, but it first requires approval by the county commissioners. County engineer Bud Eylar said that extensive public notice would be given before the road was closed to most traffic (local access would still be allowed).
The commissioners made the decision to proceed – but only after they gave serious consideration to scrapping the project for a second year in a row.
The reason for abandoning a project that many locals feel is absolutely necessary stems from Base Village and Town Center, which are expected to be built at the base of Snowmass Mountain in the next few years.
Town and county officials have had difficulty reaching a “fair share” agreement that would require either town residents or the developers of Base Village and Town Center to reimburse the county for the impending damage to Brush Creek and Owl Creek roads. Heavy trucks and other construction equipment needed for the projects are expected to take a toll on the roads.
Such vehicles, especially in the high volumes required for projects as large as Base Village, typically do significant damage to road surfaces and the underlying road structure, according to Bud Eylar, the county engineer.
An example of such damage was seen on Highway 82 in Snowmass Canyon last fall and winter. Crews working on the highway widening spent months filling potholes that grew bigger and more treacherous by the day. When the weather finally warmed in early spring, entire segments of the highway were repaved.
“Once something like that starts to fail, especially in the winter, you really throw up your hands and wait for spring,” Eylar said.
County officials have been reluctant to invest in either Brush Creek or Owl Creek roads in light of Snowmass Village’s reluctance to require the developer to cover repairs that will be needed after thousands of trucks finish traveling to the projects.
But public pressure to complete the Owl Creek paving, which originally surfaced as an idea when the Snowmass Ski Area was developed in the mid-1960s, led the commissioners to OK a plan yesterday that would create weight limits for trucks using Owl Creek Road.
The plan may require the county to lease a portable scale so that suspect vehicles can be weighed and their drivers cited if a violation is found. It also depends on cooperation from the sheriff’s department, which will play a key role in any enforcement plan.
County Commissioner Mick Ireland suggested that a similar weight restriction be placed on the majority of construction-related traffic that is expected to be moving up Brush Creek Road.
“I don’t want to have to go to the taxpayers and say we need X million dollars to rebuild the road because it was pulverized by construction traffic,” Ireland said.
He also suggested a fee system that would allow super-size rigs that are necessary to the projects to proceed up the road.
[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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