Time to move forward | AspenTimes.com

Time to move forward

Problems don’t go away by ignoring them. The S-curves are a failed road system.

The traffic jams entering and leaving town will only worsen as Snowmass and the valley build out. Emergency response services, like ambulance and fire once worried that the roundabout would slow their response time; now they face bottlenecks on the two lane S-curves and Castle Creek Bridge.

When minutes count for your family, will they be stuck trying to clear a path through the gridlock?

Our guests and all mass transit users sit idling in packed buses in our daily traffic jams. Don’t we promote fast, easy access to the Aspen airport and “our” four mountains?

Is this rewarding those who don’t drive?

Hundred of cars use the West End residential streets to bypass Main Street. No one dares force them onto Highway 82/Main Street because it would push the 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. traffic backup to the Hotel Jerome. Is this really how we maintain our character?

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Simply put, there are no further improvements to traffic flow without a new corridor alignment. Whether you want to see buses upgraded to light rail, or just to make the bus system efficient enough to contain traffic, all transit planning comes down to use of the Marolt.

It’s ironic to hear that the Marolt is a beautiful property to look at from the side, yet an entrance through it would be an ugly experience. The “cut and cover” tunnel was actually suggested by Ed Zasacky, of the Friends on Marolt, at a meeting I attended over a decade ago. It was to create a connection from the golf course to the Marolt, for bikers’ and cross country skiers’ access to trails without crossing Highway 82.

Frankly, it’ll be years before the state can fully fund improvements. The first money can go for a new Maroon Creek Bridge and bringing bus lanes from Buttermilk to the roundabout. That’s about half of the total cost of the Entrance to Aspen.

During the years that takes, we can redesign the parkway entry to eliminate the overkill of the tunnel. The solution could be as simple as pedestrian bridges like the two by the roundabout now.

Controlling traffic growth is the determining factor to keeping a pedestrian friendly town, not the alignment. Aspen has tools to manage traffic that were only dreamed of a decade ago, disincentives like paid parking and incentives such as park-and-ride lots at Brush Creek and the airport, HOV lanes from Basalt to town, and a regionally funded bus system. It is a matter of leadership to add to and use these tools if we want people out of cars.

Snowmass’s new Base Village will impact traffic with employees and guests. Downvalley counties continue to see huge new subdivisions and build-out of thousands of existing lots. When Snowmass Canyon is complete, we’ll be facing a resurgence of traffic. Making the park-and-ride lots at Brush Creek and the airport work with efficient transit service will be crucial.

It’s time to be proactive and manage the traffic growth of this century. It’s taken years to get Highway 82 on the state radar screen for funding; we can’t tell them to take a hike and expect to jump back up front in five years.

Those opposing the new corridor are essentially the same group who sued to stop the roundabout, which has greatly improved traffic flow. Many were also behind “Better Plan ?95,” the campaign which promoted a no vote on transit in 1994.

Their promise was to come back with a “Better Plan” to handle traffic the next year. Seven years later, they have no plan, except ignore the problem. They’re not actually for anything, even while hiding behind the mask of fighting traffic.

Not long ago the roundabout didn’t exist and Shale Bluffs was a dangerous two-lane. Those changes brought some improved mobility between Aspen/Snowmass. It created enough “breathing room” for some to say good enough.

But where will we be in 10 years if we stop now? Still using a 120-year-old, retrofitted railroad bridge for our sole access? Transit users bottlenecked in the single-occupant vehicle lane? A 25-minute, 3-mile trip to the schools? An hour and a half roundtrip to the Airport Business Center? Guests stuck on ski buses saying, “Never again!” Firefighters and ambulances fighting gridlock on the two-lane Castle Creek Bridge and S-curves whenever the alarm goes off?

Doing nothing now isn’t the “safe” move. It spells massive congestion from ignoring the changes occurring around us.

The highest of environmental and community goals for containing traffic growth, and 10 years were spent reviewing and screening all options for the corridor alignment.

The S-curves failed that screening, for both traffic flow and transit, even when the facts and data were appealed to the highest courts. It’s time to move forward.

Please vote yes for the modified direct alignment.

Rachel E. Richards

Former Mayor of Aspen

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