Pitkin County sends highway access plan back to drawing board
September 16, 2010
ASPEN – Pitkin County commissioners sent an access plan for Highway 82 on the outskirts of Aspen back to the drawing board Tuesday, advocating an option that eliminates the existing signalized intersection serving the airport and Aspen Business Center.
The access plan, covering the stretch from Smith Way above Woody Creek to the Maroon Creek Bridge on the edge of Aspen, won county endorsement in 2005 but was never formally adopted by the county, the city of Aspen and Colorado Department of Transportation. It’s now being updated, with a focus on the stretch between Service Center Road and Owl Creek Road, but the recommended alternative hit a stumbling block before commissioners this week.
The recommendation, developed with input from airport officials, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, and business owners and residents at and near the business center, called for a signalized intersection at Highway 82 and Baltic Avenue, where one exists today, but also for converting that intersection to an entrance only for the airport. Traffic would exit the airport at the BMC West intersection, just upvalley from the airport/business center intersection, where a new traffic signal is proposed.
Also as part of the proposal, the BMC East intersection would be closed off, as would the lane that currently feeds upvalley traffic from the airport onto Highway 82. New segments of frontage road would be constructed on the business center side of the highway, connecting to Service Center Road and the BMC West intersection.
None of the changes are expected in the immediate future, but would be driven by future development, including a potential new airport terminal and housing on the city-owned BMC parcel, commissioners were told.
A proposed one-way loop to circulate traffic through the airport with an entrance only at Baltic Avenue didn’t win favor with some commissioners, though.
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“I will not support this plan,” Commissioner Jack Hatfield declared.
Commissioner Rachel Richards suggested an alternate idea that had the support of some of her colleagues – traffic signals at Service Center Road and the BMC West entrance, and no traffic signal at the airport/business center intersection at Baltic Avenue. Instead, right turns only could be permitted in and out of that intersection, she said.
The plan should also accommodate a roundabout at the Baltic intersection, commissioners said.
Commissioner Michael Owsley lauded the extension of frontage roads to take traffic away from the Baltic Avenue intersection. Too much traffic on the Airport Business Center side is trying to enter the highway at that location, he said.
“Baltic Avenue is unworkable, and that’s with the traffic that exists today,” he said.
Owsley also called for realigning the Harmony Place intersection with the Owl Creek Road intersection, eliminating one of two signal lights that exist in close proximity on the highway near Buttermilk. That step is also called for in the access plan, if right-of-way for the realignment becomes available.
Commissioner George Newman suggested a pedestrian overpass at the airport/business center intersection be included in the plan to improve safety at the crossing.
“I think a pedestrian overpass is critical for this intersection,” he said.
An underpass might be better for people coming and going from the airport with luggage, Richards said.
Dan Roussin, region 3 program manager for CDOT, agreed a separated pedestrian crossing would be a worthy addition to the plan, but predicted difficulty in trying to relocate the main entrance to the airport and the business center away from Baltic Avenue. That entrance is “set in stone” for businesses there, he said.
“There are reasons why this alternative is being brought to you now,” said Brian Pettet, the county’s director of public works, regarding the recommended option. Various other alternatives have already been analyzed; the recommended one has the support of the various affected entities, he said.
“I believe we’re missing the mark,” Hatfield said. “I really think we need to take this back to the drawing board and further vet the things we’ve heard here.”