Transit group funds bus lanes to roundabout | AspenTimes.com

Transit group funds bus lanes to roundabout

Charles Agar
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” There was a collective sigh of relief and a few claps when elected officials on Thursday unanimously agreed to spend $8 million to build exclusive bus lanes between Buttermilk and the roundabout.

Construction along the 1.2-mile stretch, just shy of the Entrance to Aspen, will begin in the spring of 2008 and will be finished by the fall, Colorado Department of Transportation officials said.

The $8 million comes from a $12.7 million surplus in the half-cent, countywide sales tax dedicated to transit. The Elected Officials Transportation Committee, which is comprised of city of Aspen, Pitkin County and Snowmass Village officials, met in the Aspen City Council chambers and voted unanimously to spend the money.

Planners and elected officials stressed the work stops at the roundabout. And any improvements from the roundabout through the Entrance to Aspen to 7th and Main streets would cost an estimated $45 million and require voter approval.

Under the approved plan, buses heading upvalley to Aspen can take advantage of a bus bypass lane from the Airport Business Center to where the bus lanes begin at Owl Creek Road. They would then run along a designated bus lane across the Maroon Creek Bridge to the roundabout.

Drivers approaching Aspen in the left ” or general traffic lane ” will merge with buses near the roundabout as they do today, planners said.

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Officials directed city parks and recreation staff to implement a “robust” landscaping plan of irrigated local vegetation on the road’s grassy median.

The plan includes paving a 92-space quadrant of Buttermilk parking that will be set aside for transit riders.

“We’re really excited that this project is getting close to becoming a reality,” said CDOT program engineer Joe Elsen.

Voters approved the exclusive bus lanes across the Maroon Creek Bridge in May 2007.

Planners said the timing of the bus lane construction will avoid a costly retrofit of the bridge, saving $500,000 by tying the two projects together.

Ralph Trapani, project manager with the Parsons Transportation Group that designed the lanes, said the improvement will lessen bus travel time from Buttermilk to Aspen by as much as 15 minutes.

“I think the bus lanes are going to do a lot to relieve congestion,” said Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland, who added the area has a history of “just-in-time” road improvements such as the Snowmass Canyon rebuild and the Maroon Creek Bridge.

County Commissioner Jack Hatfield said he supports the project and he is “pro-transit,” but added, “Transit only will not solve the congestion problem.”

Hatfield wants to see two lanes of general traffic coupled with designated HOV and bus lanes.

Construction of the lanes will mean only minor delays, according to Pete Mertes, CDOT resident engineer in Glenwood Springs.

“It will probably have a slight impact on traffic,” Mertes said. “But we have the room to construct it and keep two lanes open.”

From April 2008 until the middle of summer 2008, traffic will remain in the current two-lane alignment while crews build additional lanes on the north side of the highway.

Crews will then redirect traffic and carefully phase the new bus lanes with the opening of the new Maroon Creek Bridge, Mertes said.

Under the statewide CDOT funding plan for the next 28 years, Western Slope counties will receive just $250,000 each per year for road maintenance and improvements, officials said.

The funding is barely enough to maintain roads and make necessary minor improvements, CDOT officials said.

With CDOT crews busy trying to stretch limited funds, officials said no one from the state is pitching in for additional projects or large-scale improvements such as the bus lanes or any solution to the Entrance to Aspen.

But Elsen, Mertes and some elected officials said local funding for the bus lane construction near Aspen could be a model for future projects, including any proposed solution to the Entrance to Aspen.

Ireland, a member of the governor’s blue ribbon panel on transportation, said, “All over the state you’re seeing people doing local funding for thing CDOT can’t afford to do.”