School traffic joins roundabout mix
The Aspen School District reports its drivers have had no difficulty negotiating big yellow buses filled with children through the new roundabout at Maroon Creek Road and Highway 82.
District transportation director Fred Brooks reports more children than usual are riding the bus, perhaps in response to appeals asking parents to stop driving their children to school. After two days, it appears the morning rush to school is having no unusual effects on highway traffic.
Morning and afternoon commuters are still experiencing backups, however, especially in some of the traditional rush hour bottlenecks. Although, some concede, traffic seems to be moving better than it was during the peak of summer, when the mix of tourists and construction added 25 minutes to the drive from the airport into town.
But Brooks, a veteran school bus driver, says he’s not so sure things are any better this fall than they were last spring, before construction began. “I drove one of the buses this morning, and I couldn’t see a whole lot of difference. I was stopped at the bridge instead of Buttermilk, that’s all,” he said.
He noted that downvalley traffic was backed up at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday as well, from the roundabout to about First Street in downtown Aspen. By 4 p.m. the backup had shortened considerably, however, beginning closer to Sixth Street, right before the S-curves begin.
“There was definitely a lineup going out of town yesterday [Tuesday] afternoon, but at least it kept moving,” said one commuter who asked his name not be used.
Brooks’ experience with the morning commute on Wednesday was confirmed by an Aspen Times reporter who drove upvalley through the intersection three times between 8 and 8:30 a.m.
At 8:09 a.m., traffic began to slow down at Tiehack Road, halfway between Buttermilk and the Maroon Creek Bridge. Speeds ranged from 3 mph to 25 mph, and it took five minutes to get to the roundabout from the point traffic slowed.
At 8:17 a.m., the slowdown began at the fruit stand at Buttermilk. Traffic came to a complete stop twice, and it took six minutes at speeds ranging up to 20 mph to reach the roundabout. Notably, traffic was backed up from the light at Cemetery Lane into the roundabout.
At 8:27 a.m., the backup still began at the fruit stand. Traffic came to a complete stop once, for five seconds, but it moved at speeds of up to 35 mph. The trip from the fruit stand took five minutes, and again traffic was backed up between the roundabout and Cemetery Lane.
“My biggest question is why do they keep the stoplight at Cemetery Lane,” said commuter and Aspen Skiing Co. manager Katie Fry. “If they want it to work right, they shouldn’t keep the traffic light so close to the roundabout. Maybe they should put a roundabout at Cemetery Lane, too.”
Roaring Fork Transit Agency Director Dan Blankenship cautioned that it is still too early to pass judgment, as the roundabout project is not completed. With heavy equipment and several dozen workers busy on the site from 7:30 a.m. until sunset, traffic generally moves more slowly than it otherwise would, even when flaggers are not present.
Also, he noted, the lanes are narrower and some of the entrances into the roundabout a little sharper now than they will be when the project is finished in November.
“I think the best thing to do is be patient as people learn how to use the roundabout, and keep in mind that it’s not finished yet,” Blankenship said.
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