Traffic woes aggravated by icy roads | AspenTimes.com

Traffic woes aggravated by icy roads

Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times

Traffic backs up Thursday heading into Aspen. Snow and ice only compound the commute as drivers need to slow down for safety. "Patience is key," said John Krueger, transportation director for the City of Aspen. "It only takes one spin out to make problems for everyone."

As the first deep freeze occurred and iced parts of Highway 82 this week, the upvalley traffic backup that Aspen commuters face during the height of tourist season began earlier than expected thanks to consistent snowfall.

On Tuesday, it took more than 30 minutes to travel the final 3 miles into town as motorists took extra caution with the icy conditions. The backup began about a quarter-mile from the airport entrance and was stop-and-go — with more stop and less go — all the way to the roundabout.

Traffic leaving Aspen on Wednesday afternoon also slowed to a crawl along Main Street as cars spun out on the icy road. Around 5 p.m., one motorist said it took nearly 45 minutes to go from near the Hotel Jerome downtown to the turn near the Hickory House on the west side of the city.

"The biggest issue we've seen is people not having their winter tires on and going too fast for conditions," said Blair Weyer, community relations specialist for the Aspen Police Department. "Take it slow, and leave extra space between cars."

There's also the Aspen school traffic that backs up traffic near the Maroon Creek roundabout between 7:30 and 8 a.m. An Aspen Times story on Sept. 29 pointed out that roughly a third of the student population at the elementary, middle and high schools arrives every day in private vehicles.

The schools have created reward programs to recognize the classrooms with the best commuting habits, using incentives such as pizza parties, smoothie parties and movie tickets, but traffic backups at the roundabout still slow the daily commute into town.

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There are no clear answers to reducing the traffic snarls, although alternate transportation options are touted as the best solution. Many commuters already have turned to taking the bus into Aspen. The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority may top the 5 million-rider plateau this year, which would top the current high mark of 4.85 million riders in 2008.

The commuting option of riding a bike or walking into town is diminished as the weather turns cold and snowy.

"Riding RFTA is probably the best option right now," said John Krueger, transportation director for the city of Aspen. "We have carpool programs in Aspen, as well. The problem is our roads don't have high capacity, so if everyone is going slow and being cautious, it doesn't take long for backups to occur. It only takes one spin-out to make problems for everyone. If people insist on driving into Aspen in winter conditions, make sure you have adequate winter tires and patience. If you can avoid driving in rush-hour times, that's another option."

There's only one alternate route into Aspen that avoids the Highway 82 backups from downvalley. Motorists can take the McLain Flats route into Aspen to go around the airport-area traffic, but in the colder months, that means dealing with some steep, icy hills. It also requires patience, as the speed limit is either 35 or 25 mph through the 11-mile stretch between Smith Hill Road and the connection back to Highway 82 near the entrance to Aspen.

Carrie Horn lives off Cemetery Lane on Homestake Drive and likes to walk her three dogs along the road. She's watched the commuter traffic steadily increase through her neighborhood over time, demanding extra caution during her walks. On Wednesday, she watched a car take the corner too fast near Silver King Drive heading toward town, losing control on the ice. That car would have slid onto the sidewalk if it hadn't struck a sign first.

"It's bad, mainly from 8 to 10 a.m.," Horn said. "There's so much traffic coming off of McLain Flats now that it's getting a little scary. The problem is it's worse on Highway 82. The traffic coming into Aspen, especially in the morning, is nonstop."

mmclaughlin@aspentimes.com