Roundabout rebuild on track to disrupt traffic next summer
2022 projects west of Aspen will mean traffic issues getting in and out of town
The state transportation department’s $2.6 million plan to rebuild the roundabout west of Aspen next summer and fall appears to be moving along on schedule based on two votes in the Upper Roaring Fork Valley last week.
Pitkin County commissioners approved $100,000 toward the roundabout project Wednesday, while the Elected Officials Transportation Committee — made up of members of the county commission, the Aspen City Council and the Snowmass Village Town Council — voted Thursday to provide another $271,000.
“Let’s just fund it,” Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper said at Thursday’s EOTC meeting. “Let’s get it done. We can’t continue to pothole-fix that roundabout every six weeks.”
The roundabout reconstruction is part of a larger Colorado Department of Transportation project — estimated to cost a total of between $4 million and $5 million — that also will include repaving Highway 82 between the Aspen Business Center and the Maroon Creek Bridge. The project is estimated to last about seven months, with most of the delays coming between June and October.
With this summer’s traffic worse than many locals have ever seen, the prospect of the problem worsening next summer appears foreboding.
Thursday’s vote came about three hours after a local attorney told elected officials about the formation of a group residents of Aspen’s West End fed up with the daily invasion of their neighborhood by commuters trying to avoid Highway 82 gridlock between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays. One resident practically pleaded with officials to not only help the neighborhood, but deal with the larger transportation problems that plague Aspen.
Next summer’s CDOT project will feature a voluntary detour through Woody Creek using Smith Hill Road to McLain Flats Road to Cemetery Lane for passenger cars and light trucks, which was approved by Pitkin County commissioners in February. CDOT has promised to take video of McLain Flats and other roads used before the detour and restore them to the same condition after the detour, said Brian Pettet, county public works director.
Those who need to access Maroon Creek, Castle Creek and other roads off the portion of Highway 82 under construction will still be able to use the road because it will not be closed during the repaving and reconstruction. Buses and large trucks will have to use the highway.
Traffic delays related to the highway paving likely won’t be too painful because CDOT crews will resurface the road at night, according to Andrew Knapp, CDOT’s resident engineer in Glenwood Springs. The roundabout, however, is another story.
CDOT plans to take up all the asphalt in the roundabout and replace it with concrete, while also extending two traffic islands. The pothole-prone asphalt simply doesn’t hold up for long enough under the punishing high mountain winters. Concrete is far more durable and is expected to last at least 20 years and possibly 30 years.
CDOT currently shuts down the roundabout and patches potholes every two to three years, according to a city of Aspen engineer.
In addition to the $371,000 from Pitkin County and the EOTC, Aspen’s City Council — which first suggested the idea of using concrete instead of asphalt at the roundabout — contributed $980,000, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority kicked in $300,000 and CDOT will fund the remaining $949,000 for the roundabout reconstruction. CDOT also will pay the tab for the highway repaving.
On Wednesday, Pitkin County Commissioner Greg Poschman said he was worried about traffic impacts during the detour period on the intersection of Smith Hill Way and Highway 82.
“That has become, perhaps, the most dangerous intersection in the county,” he said. “It’s a dangerous situation, and it’s going to get worse while they’re doing maintenance on the roundabout. It makes me really nervous.”
Commissioner Francie Jacober said she didn’t like the fact that CDOT was going to use a strip of county-owned open space between the roundabout and the park-and-ride bus stop for staging during construction. The board authorized the use of the strip in February, but officials have since learned that CDOT actually owns the property as the result of condemnation proceedings, so the agency didn’t need county permission to use it after all, Pettet said.
CDOT also will remove cottonwood trees from the north side of the roundabout as part of the construction process, Pettet said. He was not sure if they would be replaced, which didn’t sit well with Poschman.
“They have to (revegetate) it,” he said. “They can’t just leave a patch of weeds there.”
The Aspen Ambulance District seeks a property-tax increase to keep up its level of service, and the Pitkin County commissioners showed initial willingness this week to put the question on the Nov. 8 ballot.
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