Roundabout vote not likely to sway CDOT | AspenTimes.com
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Roundabout vote not likely to sway CDOT

Janet Urquhart

Aspen voters will get a say on a roundabout at Cemetery Lane, but that doesn’t mean one will ever be built there, regardless of the outcome at the polls, according to a state highway official.

“I think, from my perspective, I would not recommend that kind of improvement to my superiors as something worth doing,” said Ralph Trapani, regional manager for the Colorado Department of Transportation.

The Aspen City Council, which has been wrestling with what to ask voters regarding the entrance to Aspen, finally agreed on a pair of ballot questions this week.

In May, voters will be asked to authorize use of the Marolt open space for an interim busway, plus two lanes of highway traffic. Approval would allow CDOT to proceed with its plans to realign Highway 82 from the Maroon Creek Road roundabout into town.

Voters will also be asked if the city should authorize use of city property and open space “in order to replace the traffic signal at Cemetery Lane with a roundabout and keep Highway 82 in a two-lane configuration from Buttermilk into Aspen on the existing S-curve alignment.”

The wording of the roundabout question had been a sticking point with the Friends of Marolt, a group that favors the Cemetery Lane roundabout and keeping the highway on its current path. The question ultimately approved by the council conforms to the language proposed by the Friends.

The Friends have argued that there is no funding in place for CDOT’s entrance plan and that a Cemetery Lane roundabout could ease congestion now.

But Aspen can’t just pave a roundabout at Cemetery Lane, even if it’s willing to put up the money, according to Trapani, who is overseeing the work on Highway 82.

“That is still a state highway,” he said. “It’s not so easy for a community to come in and build something outside the plan. It’s not just an issue of, if Aspen has the money, can they build it.

“The first test is, does it work as a solution?” he added. “In my opinion, it doesn’t.”

In addition, the environmental impact statement that was done for the entrance to Aspen across Marolt would have to be reopened in order to proceed with the highway improvements put forth by the Friends, Trapani said. That means a new evaluation, required by federal law, of the impacts to historic and recreational resources that would be affected, he said.

“I will not recommend to my bosses that [the EIS] be reopened,” Trapani said.

As it is, the EIS that has been completed is still the subject of a legal challenge by the Friends of Marolt. A decision on the part of the lawsuit that remains unresolved is pending in federal court.

Trapani voiced his concerns about the roundabout idea at a meeting of elected officials from Aspen, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County on Tuesday night, but the City Council agreed later that evening to put both entrance questions on the ballot anyway.

Mayor Rachel Richards defended the decision to poll voters on the Cemetery Lane roundabout. Aspen needs to end the debate and “speak with one voice” when it lobbies the state to provide the funding for entrance improvements, she said.

“I don’t want it said, `Oh, the entryway passed because there were no other choices on the ballot,'” Richards said.

In addition, the ballot measures allow voters to separate the entrance issue from the candidates running for City Council in May, she said.

While Richards said she believes voters will realize they need to endorse one entrance plan or the other, a spokesman for the Friends said he thinks voters can choose both or neither option.

Dennis Vaughn, secretary/treasurer of the Friends, praised the adopted wording of the roundabout question because it no longer precludes the CDOT entrance plan. Initially, the council framed the roundabout question in terms of discontinuing efforts to realign the highway across Marolt. That wording has been eliminated.

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 to create a straight shot from the Maroon Creek Road roundabout to the Hickory House corner at Seventh Street, where a traffic signal is planned.

Voters approved use of Marolt for two lanes of highway, plus light rail, in 1996, but authorization to use the land for interim busways is still needed. The city hopes to obtain that approval in May.

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