Traffic on 82 is only going to get worse, study says | AspenTimes.com
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Traffic on 82 is only going to get worse, study says

Vehicles pack Main Street (Highway 82) in Aspen during a July 4 weekend. In the next 20 years, the highway could see 50 percent more traffic. Aspen Times photo.
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This is the first of a two-part series looking at the valley’s increasing number of commuters. On Tuesday, we’ll focus on the study’s recommendations for dealing with the new droves of drivers.Traffic on Highway 82 will reach unmanageable levels within 20 years due in large part to the creation of jobs in Aspen and Pitkin County, according to an exhaustive report on regional travel patterns.The daily traffic level will increase by about 50 percent on Highway 82 in the next two decades, says the Local and Regional Travel Patterns Study commissioned by Healthy Mountain Communities. The nonprofit organization works on regional issues facing the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys.The study showed that traffic on Interstate 70 in Garfield County could grow by 80 percent.”It will not be possible to increase roadway capacity by anywhere near these percentages, nor would such an attempt be good policy, given the side effects of highway expansion,” the study says. “It also will not be possible to increase transit service levels to offset this growth.”

But the study also notes that the congestion of roadways and parking lots will present a chance for expansion, and better utilization, of mass transit.The study was released Friday and is just starting to be distributed to local elected officials and policy makers. The release came one day after the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority board voted to tear up and sell the unused railroad tracks between Glenwood Springs and Woody Creek.Critics claimed the decision to sell the tracks and use portions of the rail bed for a pedestrian trail will make it more difficult, if not impossible, to ever develop commuter rail. They contend that rising energy costs and the increasing regional population will require the commuter train someday.Aspen job growth

The main reason commuting will increase so dramatically is because job growth in Aspen and Pitkin County will outpace housing growth.The best guess is there will be 19,225 more jobs in Pitkin County in 2025 than there were in 2000, according to the study. But its population will grow by only 10,330 people because of growth controls and lack of affordable housing. The result is “Pitkin County’s role as a regional job center will intensify,” the study said.Eagle County’s job growth will be greater than population gains so it will also continue to rely more heavily on out-of-county workers. Garfield County’s population will grow at a greater rate than jobs so its role as a workforce supplier will also grow.So how will those trends affect the commute? “Upvalley commuting will grow dramatically,” the study said. “The largest growth will be from mid- and downvalley communities to Pitkin County, with an increase from approximately 7,500 commuters now to 18,900 in 2025.”

Creating bedroom communitiesWhen the number of commuters heading to Aspen and Pitkin County for all outside areas is added, the growth is even more dramatic.Pitkin County imported 8,400 commuters from within and outside the valley in 2000, according to the study. By 2025, the number is projected to swell to 20,500 commuters.The Carbondale, El Jebel and Basalt areas will continue to account for the bulk of commuters to Aspen and Snowmass Village. Even though they continue to nurture their own identities, their roles as bedroom communities for Aspen will intensify.

An estimated 63 percent of the working residents of Carbondale, El Jebel and Basalt will commute outside of their towns to work by 2025. That would be a rise from the 54 percent who traveled outside their towns to jobs in 2000.The study was undertaken by RRC Associates and Charlier Associates, both of Boulder, and Healthy Mountain Communities. Funding was contributed by the Pitkin and Eagle counties, Aspen, Snowmass Village and Rifle.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com


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