The final countdown begins for Aspen’s bridge armageddon
The city of Aspen on Thursday held its last open house before the Castle Creek Bridge goes under construction next week, impacting thousands of people in the coming months.
The meeting was geared toward neighbors of the project and businesses. But just like most of the open houses the city has held on the project in recent weeks, it was sparsely attended. City officials estimate that about a dozen people came to the Thursday afternoon meeting at the library.
It was a mix of residents who don’t want the project at all, others who are concerned about noise prior to the allowed hours of work and at least one person who supported it.
The city’s outreach has fallen on deaf ears in some regard, as people have expressed surprise, bewilderment and anger in the past couple of weeks as the project gets closer to starting.
However, some have been paying attention. Local resident Lara Whitley said via email that the city has done “remarkable civic outreach” in recent months. Whitley, who supports the project, has attended an open house, spoken directly with city staff and was encouraged to share her thoughts with planners, which she did.
“I felt welcomed, listened to and taken seriously,” she wrote. “So, not everyone thinks this is a bad idea or a poorly communicated one. Is the construction going to be a hassle? Indeed it is and I have a lot of compassion for the business owners. But the huge and long overdue safety improvements justify the disruption — and we will all get through it.”
The city has sent more than 1,000 mailers and fliers to businesses and residents, held open houses, launched a social media campaign and advertised in local media.
Most of that material directs people to the project’s website. Bryana Starbuck, who is handling public relations on the project, said that is the best place to get updated information as the project progresses.
Starbuck said if bridge construction occurs outside of the authorized hours of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and some Saturdays, they can call or text 970-618-5379, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It’s all complaint-based, so please let us know,” she said.
The city has altered construction hours for the public during the project to minimize traffic backups. Contractors and construction workers will be allowed to work 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. City code says they can start at 7:30 a.m. and work until 5:30 p.m. under normal conditions.
A portable message board will be stationed near the Intercept Lot to let motorists know that significant traffic delays are expected. Bus service will be expanded from there and Rubey Park this spring, as well as the free Downtowner service.
Don Fleisher, who owns Pitkin County Dry Goods, said he’s concerned that the sign will act as a deterrent for people to come into town. When work was done on the bridge last year, his business was down 40 percent over three days from 2016. He said the city did a good job of advertising not to come into town. He also noted that August is his second-busiest month of the year.
The $4.65 million project — which runs through October but takes a hiatus from mid–June to mid-August — seeks to improve safety and function for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists along the busiest street in Aspen. Components include a protected 8-foot-wide concrete trail, upgraded bus shelters, repaired roadway and improved intersections at Seventh and Eighth streets.
In a statement, Pete Rice, the city’s senior project manager, said it’s not the government’s intention to slow business down.
“We want everyone to know that Aspen is still open for business and to enjoy all the amenities that this city has to offer,” he said.
The bridge will be reduced to one lane beginning Monday, when outbound traffic will be redirected through the West End neighborhood and down Power Plant Road.
Inbound traffic will go over the bridge and continue on Hallam Street through the S-curves, although there will be periodic holds to let RTFA buses through. All buses, emergency vehicles and large trucks that cannot negotiate Power Plant Road will travel over the bridge throughout the project.
The first phase runs from Monday to April 6. Regular traffic patterns resume on nights and weekends, Starbuck said.
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