S-curves group shows no shortage of opinions | AspenTimes.com

S-curves group shows no shortage of opinions

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

It didn’t take long Wednesday for Aspen’s S-Curves Task Force to butt up against the city’s directive to stay focused on the existing Highway 82 alignment.

The group has been charged with studying how to improve traffic flow through the bottleneck at the western entrance to town.

However, initial debate by the 13-member task force, convening for the first time yesterday, quickly signaled a diversity of opinions about how best to tackle its assignment from the City Council. In fact, the group spent considerable time wordsmithing its mission, as outlined by the council, before ultimately agreeing to leave the mission statement alone.

Although the task force includes citizens who have been active on one side of the contentious Entrance to Aspen debate or the other, the so-called “straight shot” option – realigning the highway over open space on the edge of town – got just one mention, by member Charlie Eckart. He opened what he called the “can of worms” and then cut his comments off.

“I know we can’t go there,” he said.

Instead, the group appeared divided between those willing to focus solely on the existing alignment through the S-curves, where the highway narrows through two 90-degree turns, and those calling for broader parameters. Advocates of the broader approach mentioned the use of side streets, altering bus routes and methods to reduce traffic as possible topics for discussion.

The council has directed the group to develop a range of improvements to the capacity, safety and appearance of the existing highway alignment between the Maroon Creek Road roundabout and the intersection of Seventh and Main streets.

“It’s like it’s written to fail,” complained task force member Bill Wiener. “There are a lot of things that can be done to make it work better, if you go beyond these boundaries.

“If there’s something that contributes to solving the problem beyond those geographic limits, I think we ought to consider it.”

The task force should consider options that expand into the surrounding neighborhood, agreed group member Richie Cohen.

“If you’re stuck with the right of way, then why are we here?” he said.

“We can talk about all those things – just not moving the existing highway alignment,” suggested member Donna Fisher.

“The City Council has been very specific in what they’ve told us to do,” countered Dennis Vaughn, urging the group to think creatively, but keep its deliberations centered on the existing highway alignment.

“I don’t think we ought to consider taking traffic elsewhere in the neighborhood,” he said. “But if the [Castle Creek] bridge can be widened, and it improves the situation, why shouldn’t we do that?

“I’ve for a long time felt there had to be answers in the existing alignment,” Vaughn added. “My favorite idea is to create a third, reversible lane in the S-curves, perhaps for buses only.”

A third lane dedicated to inbound traffic in the morning and outbound traffic in the afternoon has been employed in other cities, Vaughn noted.

“They seem to work. I wonder why that isn’t a solution here,” he said.

Once the group delves into its ideas, it will discover constraints that make some improvements impossible, predicted Tom McCabe, a former City Council member.

“One of the things that makes this so difficult, and has made this so difficult, is the number of options we don’t have,” he said.

McCabe has been an ardent straight-shot supporter, but said he wants to help explore improvements to the S-curves.

“I think it’s incumbent on the community to make the S-curves function as well as possible,” he said. “That’s what I’m here to accomplish.”

Task force members asked city staffers and state transportation officials to supply them with a list of constraints on the existing highway right of way that may limit the group in its brainstorming.

Gary Suitor, the former Snowmass town manager who is moderating the task force discussions, directed members to return next week with a brief definition of what they perceive as the problem and an idea to solve it.

The group is scheduled to meet four more times by the end of September, before taking its recommendations to the council.

Council members appointed citizens to the task force earlier this summer, hoping for fresh ideas about how to improve traffic flow and mass transit through the S-curves, since city voters endorsed the existing highway alignment at the polls last fall.

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

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