Temporary stoplight at Aspen airport on Highway 82 could be there for a while

An early-morning mishap involving a city of Aspen dump truck earlier this month may have long-term safety effects on the busy Highway 82 intersection at Aspen’s airport, sources said Friday.

The problems surround the stoplight controlling traffic heading up valley that has been in pieces for two weeks since the accident, while a temporary light and difficult-to-see left-hand turn signal for the Aspen Business Center have been installed for the time being.

“(The Colorado Department of Transportation) has concerns about safety at this intersection, so fixing the signal is one of CDOT’s top priorities,” CDOT spokesperson Elise Thatcher said in an email Friday. “The temporary signal there is now harder for motorists to see compared to the full pole and signal.”

The intersection situation started about 2:30 a.m. on Feb. 5 after a municipal dump truck driver dropped a load of snow at the snow dump near Pitkin County’s Public Works building and turned left on to Highway 82 heading back into Aspen.

“On his return trip, he came out of the snow dump and thought his bed was down and it wasn’t and he went through the light and caught the light,” said Willy McFarlin, city of Aspen assistant streets superintendent.

The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office sent out an alert notifying drivers the road was closed for about four hours while a CDOT crew took down and removed the stoplight arm and installed the temporary signal, said Alex Burchetta, chief deputy of operations.

The orange temporary light on the airport side of the highway is smaller and not nearly as tall as the original stoplight pole, though Burchetta said he felt it was adequately visible to drivers. The somewhat confusing new angle comes for those who want to turn left from Highway 82 into the Aspen Business Center and look in the usual place for the turn signal arrow, he said.

It’s not there.

Drivers must look about 25 degrees to the left, where a left-hand turn signal has been installed on the ABC side of the road.

Still, Burchetta said he doesn’t think safety has been compromised.

“It’s a little different than it used to be,” Burchetta said. “You have to pay a little more attention at that intersection.”

One accident occurred at the intersection in January before the incident with the dump truck, according to statistics from the Sheriff’s Office. Two accidents have occurred there since the temporary signals were installed.

The damaged stoplight arm is lying in the snow by the side of the highway. Thatcher said a crew looked at both the pole and the arm Thursday to see if they can be used again. Results of the inspection are due next week, she said.

If the pole and arm are structurally sound and can be used again, the light will likely be repaired and up and running again, possibly as early as April, Thatcher said. That months-long delay would occur because the force of the impact spun the concrete pole footing in the ground, so CDOT will have to repour the concrete in another spot.

The replacement of the concrete foot also could cause delays depending on the location of other utilities in the area and whether the original pole and arm would then be adequate to use from the new location. In addition, CDOT will have to reroute the conduit to the signal because the impact likely stretched or severed the wiring, Thatcher said.

That scenario would cost an estimated $30,000, she said.

If the pole and arm are not usable, the Aspen area could be looking at a wait of a year or more because of delays from the metal fabricator. For example, a recent stoplight replacement in Delta took two years to get up and running, she said.

Under those circumstances, the new light would cost “upwards of $50,000,” Thatcher said.

CDOT will cover the costs upfront, then likely try to recoup the costs later, she said.

Tracy Trulove, city of Aspen spokesperson, said Friday that the state agency will likely file a claim with the city’s insurance company.