State will keep Marolt right of way | AspenTimes.com

State will keep Marolt right of way

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A representative from Colorado’s decision-making body on transportation said emphatically yesterday the state has no plans to surrender its right of way across the Marolt-Thomas open space to the city of Aspen.

Doug Aden represents much of the West Slope on the Colorado Transportation Commission. He said he and others in state government would be willing to talk to city representatives about the recently acquired right of way across the property on the west side of town.

But he seriously doubted a deal was possible, in spite of the outcome of the election earlier this month.

“I don’t see any reason why we would undo the agreements of the past,” Aden said.

Voters in Pitkin County and the city of Aspen were presented with a simple question on Nov. 5 about Highway 82: Should it remain on its current alignment through the S-curves that routes the highway onto Main Street, or should it be rerouted across the Marolt-Thomas open space, the empty fields between the roundabout and Castle Creek?

Voters both in and out of Aspen came out in favor of the existing alignment.

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Questions over how Highway 82 should be routed into Aspen have been subject to contentious public debate since the late 1960s. A number of nonbinding votes, including the most recent, over the years have seesawed between support for the status quo and a wider, more direct route into town.

In a legally binding election in 1996, however, Aspen voters agreed to give up the Marolt-Thomas open space to realign the highway as long as it involved one lane in each direction and a light rail system. That vote, on the so-called Record of Decision, authorized the state to reroute the highway with an accompanying rail platform and authorized the city to give CDOT the land needed to do it.

“People need to remember that the Entrance to Aspen was a federal initiative, a legal process that entailed a rigorous environmental review where all the alternatives were considered and rejected,” Aden said.

CDOT officials have long maintained that the Entrance to Aspen is still a long way from a start date because the state budget is bleeding red ink, and, once money is available, there are several projects in line ahead of it.

Earlier this year, the city finally gave CDOT the Marolt right of way, sparking a petition drive that ultimately resulted in the question on this fall’s ballot.

But Aden said even if groundbreaking on the Entrance to Aspen is still a long way off, it is nevertheless an important project from the state’s point of view.

“Highway 82 was identified as a strategic corridor, and we’ve spent $223 million upgrading it so far, just between Basalt and Buttermilk,” Aden explained. “I think there are a lot of other stakeholders besides the people who voted in the election.”

He also pointed out that the deal that finally resulted in CDOT owning the right of way across the open space involved a three-way property exchange between Pitkin County, the city of Aspen and CDOT. Undoing that agreement would be problematic at best.

But Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud and City Councilman Terry Paulson, both open opponents of realignment, say the fact that Aden is willing to talk is a good start.

Paulson said the city might consider trading some of the open space it owns directly beneath the highway bridge over Maroon Creek. When the Maroon Creek bridge is finally rebuilt, it will require supports that intrude on the city-owned open space.

“Maybe we could trade Marolt-Thomas for the bottom land they need down there,” Paulson said.

[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is aharvey@aspentimes.com]

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