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Roundabout issue continues to circle

Janet Urquhart

A proposal to put a Cemetery Lane roundabout before Aspen voters in May bogged down Monday amid charges of election-year politicking, devious wordsmithing and double talk.

After three hours of debate on what to ask voters regarding the Highway 82 alignment into Aspen, the City Council put off a decision on whether or not to go forward with the Cemetery Lane question.

They did informally agree to ask voters for permission to build interim, dedicated bus lanes across the Marolt open space, along with two lanes of traffic.

Voters OK’d a highway alignment across Marolt, along with light rail, in 1996. The Colorado Department of Transportation’s plan for the entrance to Aspen allows either light rail or interim busways. City officials now want voter approval for the busway alternative across the open space so the entrance project can proceed if funding suddenly becomes available.

The Cemetery Lane roundabout alternative is the entrance plan floated by the Friends of Marolt, which

has filed a lawsuit over use of the Marolt open space to realign Highway 82 from the Maroon Creek Road roundabout into town. Part of that suit is still pending in federal court.

Friends members argued yesterday that putting any question to voters before the suit is resolved is premature. And after reading the proposed wording to poll voters on the roundabout plan, they asked the city to pull that question, though the group had initially lobbied to have the roundabout alternative on the ballot if the Marolt question was going to be there. Three options for asking voters about the Cemetery Lane roundabout all framed the question in terms of discontinuing efforts to realign the highway across Marolt and instead use the existing highway alignment.

Dennis Vaughn, secretary/treasurer of the Friends, suggested the language was designed to ensure defeat of the proposal.

“That’s like saying to a voter, `If you want to vote for the roundabout, you have to put a stake through the heart of the CDOT entrance,'” Vaughn said. “I think that goes too far and is unnecessary.”

“No one has suggested those plans should be discontinued,” said mayoral candidate Helen Klanderud. “To word that question that way . it’s not a fair question.”

“That’s just plain double talk,” countered Mayor Rachel Richards, pointing out the Friends’ opposition to routing the highway across Marolt.

Klanderud also disputed the need to ask any question regarding highway alignment this spring, given the unresolved lawsuit and current lack of funding for the $62 million entrance plan approved by CDOT.

“I think a political issue is being made over what is a legal issue,” she said.

But council members defended the action, noting highway dollars become available unexpectedly and go to projects that are ready to proceed.

“We do have the opportunity for money in the near term that might go to this project if we answer the questions,” said Councilman Tom McCabe, who said he recently discussed the matter with state transportation officials.

The lawsuit is likely to be further delayed by appeals, added city attorney John Worcester, suggesting the city not wait until the appeals process is exhausted before it gets the final voter OK it needs for the entrance plan.

Pitkin County Commissioner Mick Ireland is chairman of the local Transportation Planning Region that advises CDOT on transportation funding. He urged the city to ask both the Marolt and roundabout questions. The state will not, however, pay for the roundabout option, he said.

“There is little doubt CDOT will allow you to do this if you pay for it locally,” he said.

The Friends back a roundabout to replace the traffic signal at Cemetery Lane. If that doesn’t ease the bottleneck into town, the group endorses roundabouts at the S-curves – at Seventh and Hallam streets and Seventh and Main streets – as well. The group has not called for any changes to the stretch between Buttermilk and the Maroon Creek roundabout.

The Friends have said they would not oppose light rail alone across the Marolt open space.

The entrance to Aspen approved in CDOT’s Record of Decision calls for two lanes of highway plus a mass transit component (dedicated busways or rail line) from Buttermilk into town, using the Marolt alignment. That plan includes new bridges over Castle and Maroon creeks to provide dedicated lanes for mass transit.

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Posted: Tuesday, March 6, 2001


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