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River Rd. may serve as major thoroughfare

Allyn Harvey

People living along Lower River Road in Snowmass Canyon have about 18 months to get used to the idea of dealing with more traffic – maybe a lot more traffic.

State officials, eyeing their options when four-lane work begins on Highway 82 in the canyon, could turn the rural road into, in essence, the highway.

One plan under consideration by the Colorado Department of Transportation is to divert all traffic off Highway 82 and onto Lower River Road, which parallels the highway on the opposite side of the Roaring Fork River, while a four-lane road is built through Snowmass Canyon.

On the other hand, said CDOT engineer Ralph Trapani, another possible alternative would send hardly any traffic across the river.

“There’s a range of possibilities with Lower River Road that literally go from throwing down a little asphalt along the shoulder to spending $10 million to make major improvements,” Trapani said.

It’s not exactly clear how many more cars, trucks and buses will be traveling on the opposite side of the Roaring Fork, but it’s likely the number will be higher once work on a four-lane highway through Snowmass Canyon begins.

The Colorado Transportation Commission approved $95 million in funding for Snowmass Canyon work last month; construction is expected to start in late summer or early fall of 2000.

Strict limits on working hours for most segments of the Highway 82 widening project thus far have limited the project’s impact on commuters during peak travel hours.

Typically, the contractors have delayed construction that requires flaggers and lane closures until 9 a.m. each morning and stopped such work at 3:30 p.m. to accommodate the morning and afternoon commutes.

To date, those restrictions have been acceptable, because there was plenty of work that did not require traffic to be slowed or stopped.

But, Trapani pointed out, sections of Snowmass Canyon are so narrow that it will be much harder for the contractor to make such adjustments.

“One of the keys to the Snowmass Canyon project is making sure the contractor gets a full eight-hour day,” Trapani said.

In addition to looking at diverting all traffic off the highway, CDOT planners are also considering using Lower River Road to divert one direction of traffic.

For instance, in the mornings, downvalley traffic would be directed across the river, and in the afternoons, upvalley traffic would use the road. That would keep the higher traffic volumes on the highway while allowing the contractor to close one lane of the highway down.

Another plan would divert everything but buses off the highway. That would limit the impacts of construction on the Roaring Fork Transit Agency and its riders, which Trapani said is one of CDOT’s goals.

Local environmental activist Connie Harvey suggested Trapani and the project planners consult with a wildlife biologist before making any decisions. Harvey said she often spots deer and elk on Lower River Road after dark and worries about the number of accidents that will occur without the proper measures in place.

Pitkin County Commissioner Mick Ireland, on the other hand, supports diverting all of the traffic off the highway if it will dramatically speed up construction.

“I think it’s a great idea to close the highway down and get construction done 18 months earlier, with all of the traffic on the Woody Creek side,” Ireland said.


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