Same spot still favored for Castle Creek Road bridge
A plan to build a controversial pedestrian bridge over Castle Creek Road is back, and local officials still favor the location hated by neighbors last year.
The bridge is a part of a plan by the city of Aspen’s Parks Department to create a “seamless” paved trail system. The goal is to allow children to bike or walk from town to the school campus on Maroon Creek Road without crossing traffic.
An engineering study completed over the winter compared the location with three alternative sites farther up the road.
But in a joint work session Tuesday, Aspen City Council members and Pitkin County Commissioners supported, with a few exceptions, the original location. The commissioners, in whose jurisdiction the bridge falls, will make a final decision March 28. The favored location is adjacent to the Aspen Chapel and crosses Castle Creek Road just north of the pond built in the Marolt open space.
The engineering study was done by Washington Infrastructure Services, Inc., formerly MK Centennial, the company that did the engineering on the Maroon Creek roundabout. Washington’s engineers examined the possibility of placing either a pedestrian bridge or a tunnel in the original location and at three other points along Castle Creek Road. The most southerly location studied is adjacent to the Health and Human Services building south of Aspen Valley Hospital.
A bridge at the chapel location, called “location A,” was favored by the engineers because it’s the most direct, it ties in best with the roundabout’s trail connection, and it had the lowest cost estimate, at $450,000. Tunnel options were generally disregarded because excavation doubles the expense, and underpasses are generally thought of as convenient places to commit crime.
“We recommend option A with the bridge,” said Virgil Gray, an engineer for Washington. “It’s one of the safer options, and it has probably the least impact on views.”
County Commissioner Patti Clapper opposed location A because of the visual impact. “I would prefer to see the crossing a little farther up,” she said.
Mayor Rachel Richards noted that the bridge at location A would serve Cemetery Lane residents especially well and spoke out against the choice of an underpass.
“I’m personally really concerned about the safety of underpasses, especially at night,” she said. “You have to light them very heavily.”
Commissioner Shellie Roy also voiced her opposition to underpasses, known as box culverts.
“I’m very uncomfortable with these boxes,” Roy said. “I think the cure is worse than the disease.” She noted that the excavation necessary to build an underpass would be very disruptive.
Lynne Mace of Ashcroft and King Woodward, a Meadowood resident, asked the officials to consider a crossing with flashing warning lights to alert motorists.
“There’s much less traffic on Castle Creek Road than there is on Maroon,” Woodward said.
“We’ve identified this as a place where something has to be done,” said Kevin Dunnett, a parks planner for the city of Aspen.
Richards noted that the original intent of the trail project was to convey children safely to the school campus without ever crossing traffic.
Commission Chairman Mick Ireland said stopping traffic for pedestrians at that point would impede the function of the roundabout.
“They will back up traffic into the roundabout, which is about the only way you can screw up a roundabout,” Ireland said. He voiced his support of location A, saying the direct route is the best.
Kids would avoid the bridge and shortcut across the road if a longer route were selected, he said.
“Human nature is such that people don’t go the way engineers want them to go,” Ireland said. “If you’re a kid, you take the shortest route, because you’re in a hurry.”
Councilman Tom McCabe echoed that sentiment. “Kids will take the path of least resistance,” he said.
Castle-Maroon Caucus members promised to turn out their members for the commissioners’ meeting next week.
Though a connecting bridge over Maroon Creek Road was built last fall, a county decision approving the span over Castle Creek Road was appealed by Meadowood residents. Citizens argued that the planned bridge would obscure views of the Castle Creek Valley from the vicinity of the roundabout.
The September appeal succeeded in delaying the construction of the bridge. At that time, the City Council agreed to commission the feasibility study to compare other options.
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