Round and round the roundabout: no heroes here |

Round and round the roundabout: no heroes here

The Aspen Times Editorial

One can only hope that the roundabout at the intersection of Highway 82 and Maroon Creek Road will function more smoothly than the government officials who have discussed and planned the project during recent weeks.

This newspaper has long supported the idea of a roundabout at that intersection. Many studies have shown that roundabouts, when designed properly to meet traffic levels, are effective in moving traffic through tricky intersections. And anyone who has sat in traffic jams that stretch back to the airport during the high season – summer and winter – knows something must be done to move traffic through that intersection in a more efficient manner.

That said, the “snarl” we have witnessed in the governments’ handling of this project has mirrored the worst of the traffic snarls. The county commissioners’ decision to approve funding the project with local money without first holding a public hearing goes against the basic principles of public involvement in decision making. What was the point of staging Wednesday night’s emotional drama if a decision had already been made?

While we understand the county was under the gun once it learned that the state wouldn’t be coming through with money for the project anytime soon, there was certainly time to let the public have its say. After all, it is the public’s money.

County officials used several excuses to justify approving the expenditure before the public hearing: Any more delays would mean the project couldn’t be finished by the end of summer, and waiting would allow construction costs to rise. We don’t buy either argument. A delay of a week or two certainly wouldn’t put the project in jeopardy, and it is hard to believe construction costs would rise that much in that short period of time.

The public hearing itself was also a poor example of government in action. Commissioner Patti Clapper led an emotional charge that never should have been allowed in that forum. The hearing was set to specifically discuss funding of the project. In fact, the roundabout itself was approved in 1996 as part of the Entrance to Aspen.

Yet Clapper, who has long opposed the roundabout, used the meeting as an opportunity to once again air her objections. She rallied people to speak out against the project at the meeting, took up a hefty portion of the public’s time reading written objections to the project, and nearly broke down in tears when it became clear the roundabout was going to be built whether she liked it or not.

Clapper, new to the role of county official, must learn to better keep her emotions in check. As an elected leader, she must exercise poise when discussing all issues, no matter where she stands on them or where the vote falls. And Commissioner Leslie Lamont, who chaired the public hearing, should do a better job of keeping meetings on the right course. She should never have allowed comments that didn’t pertain to the question at hand: whether the roundabout should be funded with public money.

And finally, it should certainly have come as no surprise when drivers erupted into a fury this week at the backups caused by construction of the roundabout. County officials seemed dumbfounded that the work was responsible for the delays. That demonstrated an apparent woeful lack of preparation on their part. They must do a better job of keeping traffic moving through that intersection during our busy summer.

Simply halting construction during peak periods doesn’t work in the summer. Unlike the winter, a steady stream of traffic flows in and out of Aspen all day long, all summer long, and every effort should be made to keep that traffic moving.

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