S-curves group bogs down on how to fix ’em | AspenTimes.com

S-curves group bogs down on how to fix ’em

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Debate on how to improve the S-curves bogged down faster Wednesday than rush-hour traffic.

The 13-member task force assigned to come up with ideas to improve traffic flow through the Highway 82 bottleneck on Aspen’s west side came to no consensus on either of two possible solutions: a three-lane configuration or four lanes between the Maroon Creek Road roundabout and the intersection of Seventh and Main streets.

A number of task force members agreed the Cemetery Lane intersection with Highway 82 is a problem, but the group hasn’t yet figured out how to fix it. The number of side streets feeding into the S-curves are also problematic, several members said, but what to do about them remains unresolved, as well.

With just two more scheduled meetings this month before the task force is expected to take its recommendations to the Aspen City Council, the group divided up into two subcommittees – one to tackle traffic capacity issues and the other to address access points and safety. The groups are expected to gather informally to brainstorm on solutions before the task force’s next formal meeting on Sept. 17.

“I don’t think we have enough time to do this job,” said member Dennis Vaughn. “I’m really concerned we won’t be finished.”

The task force did, however, appear to reach one conclusion: the two-lane Castle Creek bridge is probably a constraint the city can’t do anything about.

Removing the sidewalks from the bridge to create three traffic lanes, with a reversible lane that would carry inbound traffic in the morning and outbound traffic in the afternoon, would require major structural reconstruction, said an engineering consultant.

“Doing this is not a simple repair – it’s not just pulling off the sidewalks,” said Nick Senn of Glenwood Springs-based Turner Collie and Braden.

It’s possible traffic could continue to flow across the bridge while the construction is under way, but the work would hamper flow, he warned.

“You would have to live through some construction pain to do these modifications,” he said.

With a rough estimate of $1 million to create a three-lane bridge that would no longer have sidewalks, some task force members questioned whether the group should even be talking about such changes.

“I think we should work through our initial recommendations in keeping with that constraint,” said member Tom McCabe.

A three-lane highway with a reversible center lane presents other challenges, as well, Senn said.

Typically, a physical barrier, not just stripes on the pavement, separates the reversible lane from oncoming traffic, and side-street traffic is not an issue.

A reversible lane would probably mean restricting left turns in and out of Cemetery Lane and at Seventh and Main, Senn said. Overhead, lighted signs to show motorists which lanes are open to them would be needed.

“There is no reversible lane like this anywhere,” he said. “This would be the first of its kind.”

The Colorado Department of Transportation would have to approve it.

Task force member Kip Wheeler offered the group drawings of a four-lane option through the S-curves, except on the Castle Creek bridge, where the bus/HOV lane in each direction would have priority.

At Cemetery Lane, Wheeler proposed a separated upvalley lane that would bypass the signalized intersection and four lanes between Cemetery Lane and the roundabout.

Four lanes is safer than a confusing reversible lane and can be done within the existing right of way, Wheeler argued.

“This is a practical solution. It’s feasible, it’s economical and it could probably be done within the time frame that we’re looking at,” he said.

Member Richie Cohen was intrigued by Wheeler’s ideas.

“Maybe we ought to look at this. This may be an answer,” he said.

“Four lanes? Is there any reality to that?” McCabe said.

“Four lanes is just such a political bugaboo,” he muttered later.

Another option, which Senn analyzed at the group’s direction, creates an outbound transit lane on Main Street from 2 to 6 p.m. by eliminating the parking lane along the north side of the street. It may also require elimination of parking on the south side of Main Street, he said.

The transit lane could be carried across the Castle Creek bridge if it is modified for a third lane, which eliminates the sidewalks on the span.

Task force member Bill Wiener, meanwhile, has focused on the broader issue of reducing traffic flow, suggesting such things as a large intercept lot at the airport with smaller buses to take commuters to and from town.

“I look at the system like a pipe that will only allow so much to flow through it,” he said. “We need to reduce what’s going through the system, concurrently. We have too many cars.”

“Nothing we do is going to totally solve this problem unless this changes,” agreed member Donna Fisher, “but I think that’s beyond anything we can do here.”

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]

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