Red Mountain trail crossing gets scrutiny
August 7, 2012
ASPEN – Additional steps to improve the safety of a planned Hunter Creek Trail crossing at the bottom of Red Mountain Road near Aspen could give Pitkin County officials confidence to proceed with the project.
Four county commissioners, along with interested citizens and open space/trails officials from both city and county government, converged at the controversial crossing site Monday afternoon to view the situation firsthand.
The occasional truck rumbled past and some motorists zipped by at a speedy clip despite the 25 mph speed limit on Red Mountain Road, seemingly driving home safety concerns raised by a handful of area residents. Their objections spurred county commissioners to hit the brakes late last month on trail construction until they could take a look for themselves.
With four commissioners present (Commissioner Rachel Richards lives nearby and has recused herself from the discussion), there appeared to be at least some support for moving forward, though the crossing could see some additional safety features.
“I think it’s great to have a connection. I don’t think anybody said a connection was bad,” Commissioner Rob Ittner said.
The new trail segment would extend the Hunter Creek Trail to the Rio Grande Trail, creating an easier route into the Hunter Creek Valley for those unfamiliar with the options to reach Hunter Creek in Aspen’s east-side neighborhood.
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“This is essentially connecting our two most popular trails to downtown Aspen,” said Dale Will, county open space and trails director.
The extension would be a 4-foot-wide gravel path linking into the existing Hunter Creek Trail near the Hunter Longhouse housing. A planned new bridge would take the trail north across Hunter Creek; it would then follow the creek as it meanders west, crossing Red Mountain Road and intersecting with the Rio Grande Trail near Hunter Creek’s confluence with the Roaring Fork River, not far from the Rio Grande trailhead near the Aspen post office.
A trio of area residents on Monday reiterated concerns they voiced at a recent commissioner meeting: Bicyclists shooting off the trail could be clobbered by vehicles on the busy road, icy conditions in winter and spring on the road and its bridge over Hunter Creek make the area treacherous without the added element of a trail crossing, and motorists risk being rear-ended by other vehicles when they stop for trail users.
Red Mountain Road motorists are traveling on a steep slope near the planned trail crossing, and there are curves in the road, both above and below the crossing, that limit sight distance for both motorists and trail users.
“All logic says put the trail under or over the road,” said Red Mountain resident Marc Zachary.
A trail underpass isn’t impossible, said Stephen Ellsperman, city parks and open space director, but it wouldn’t be cheap.
“It’s a million-dollar project at a minimum,” he said.
A safe, at-grade crossing has been designed, Ellsperman said. Whether it is safe enough is the question, he said.
A 2-inch raised trail platform of a different color from the pavement has been designed along with flashing lights that trail users can activate to warn motorists of people in the crossing. The trail would climb sharply up to the road from both approaches and then turn toward the pavement, and bollards would be placed on the trail for an added measure of safety, along with stop signs directed at trail users. The crossing has been designed to keep trail users, particularly bicyclists, from darting across the road without slowing.
Speed bumps to either side of the trail crossing and another set of signal lights farther away from the crossing were suggested Monday. So was enforcing the speed limit on the road.
Ittner said he’d like to see a design that makes it impossible for a bicyclist to cross without dismounting.
Commissioner George Newman said he’d share his thoughts when commissioners take up the crossing again – possibly during open discussion at their meeting Tuesday.
Commissioner Jack Hatfield reiterated his preference for directing trail users to an existing Hunter Creek trailhead off Lone Pine Road and forgoing a trail extension that would require the clearing of vegetation along Hunter Creek in addition to the road crossing.
“Sometimes we can be conservative and do better,” he said.
The trail extension makes use of easements granted to the county by both the Willoughby Pond Estates and Rubey subdivisions. The $250,000 budget for construction is to be paid with private funds provided specifically for the trail project in return for an extension of vested rights for the Rubey subdivision. A city crew was to construct the trail, funded with the money provided to the county.
What can be done with the money if the project doesn’t go forward was a question county officials couldn’t answer Monday. It was provided specifically for the trail extension. The county granted a 15-year vesting period in which approvals to build several houses in the Rubey subdivision will remain valid as part of the deal.