S-curve backers cite town’s character, the environment | AspenTimes.com

S-curve backers cite town’s character, the environment

Members of the main organization in favor of Aspen’s S-curves say environmental impacts and the town’s character are just a few of the reasons not to vote for the proposed straight-shot alignment into town this fall.

Aspen and Pitkin County voters will choose between the two entrances on Nov. 5, and Citizens for a Small Town Entrance have thrown their weight behind keeping the entrance the way it is … for now. While many of them acknowledge that the entrance isn’t perfect, they say they’re willing to search for a different solution than the one proposed.

Aspen City Councilman Terry Paulson, co-chairman of the Citizens group and elected in 1993 on an environmentalism platform, said he looks at the decision almost solely based on environmental impacts.

Paulson strongly supported the Entrance to Aspen when it was approved in 1996. The plan included the mass-transit option of rail, but he said that ever since funding for rail was voted down in 1999 and a subsequent bus way was voted down in 2001, the project has “degraded into a highway.”

“This project is really three thirds: a highway component, a rail and a bus component. Two out of those three are killed now,” Paulson said. “To satisfy the environmental aspect of this, we need to have mass transit, not just a highway by itself.”

He said since the mass-transit options were defeated, an “if you build it, they will come” theme seems to have emerged for the entrance, with engineers arguing that once asphalt is put down, cars will fill the highway. “We don’t need that kind of solution for Aspen’s entrance,” Paulson said.

And as for the S-curves, he said for now the right and left turns are adequate for traffic. The curves act as a traffic-calming device and “don’t cost us a dime,” he said.

Environmentally speaking, Paulson acknowledges that cars left idling, as they sometimes are in traffic at the S-curves, do pollute the air more than moving vehicles. But he said the proposed alignment would make it easier for more cars to be on the highway at once, having the same effect on the environment.

Although Paulson points to electric and hybrid cars, trains and buses as the future for transportation, he said he’s not suggesting the community wait for just that option to be viable.

“I’m just suggesting we haven’t found the right alternative for this town. We’ve waited over 30 years now, and there’s a good reason why we’ve delayed this so long,” he said. “The right alternative is almost there, but we need a change in administration. We need some guys other than oil guys to get into office and get a grip on reality.”

Other Citizens members see ways to “soften” the S-curves, to turn what they say are two 15-mph curves into a 20-mph pathway into town.

“My initial thought would be a rail corridor only through Marolt Park, and keeping traffic and the highway impact to the existing corridor,” said Citizens member Ed Zasacky. “Don’t just move the highway a few feet over and create all sorts of new impact.”

Zasacky also points to the cost of the direct alignment ? estimated at $63 million in 1991 dollars ? as extremely high for a relatively short stretch of highway. And the Citizens argue traffic levels aren’t on an inevitable increase, based on traffic counts, so there is time to think up another alternative for the entrance.

“This is about the environment, the character of the town, and I hope we’ll get a more practical look at this,” Zasacky said.

Citizens member Gerry Bovino gave an emotional response when asked what attracts him to the current alignment rather than the proposed direct alignment. He said he still remembers his first drive into Aspen 30 years ago.

“I like the S-curves. It’s easy to not like the ‘straight shot,’ but most people won’t tell you how much they like the S-curves,” he said.

Bovino defines the area’s traffic woes as a simple function of rush hour.

“My perception is that every town in America has a period when there are more cars on the road, and that’s rush hour,” he said. “But most cities I know are not thoughtfully looking for ways to rip up parks and open space to put in more concrete because of rush hour.”

And while Bovino notes that many proponents of the modified direct alignment have pointed to it as a solution for downvalley workers who sit in traffic during peak hours, he thinks the S-curves provide the exact character for the town that in turns supports the tourist-based economy.

“You have to protect the goose that laid the golden egg, and our neighbors downvalley depend on Aspen to recreate and support their families,” he said. “It’s the only thing we have ? character in Aspen ? and we need to preserve that.”

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com]

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