Trapani heads on down the road
One of the most familiar names in the local transportation business, Ralph Trapani, is heading on down the road.Trapani’s name has become a household word in much of the Roaring Fork Valley because of what many consider his exemplary work on two projects – extending Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon and the four-laning of Highway 82.Trapani, 49, plans to end his 27-year career as a state highway engineer and regional manager with the Colorado Department of Transportation in May. The vast bulk of that career has been spent building Interstate 70 in central and western Colorado.”This job has been the greatest job,” Trapani said. “To be able to manage a project like Glenwood Canyon is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for an engineer.”Trapani said the retirement is possible because his lengthy tenure with CDOT qualifies him for a healthy pension. He will continue to work at a slightly less frantic pace with a local consulting firm. He declined to name the firm, leaving that to his future bosses.Trapani is quitting CDOT, his only employer since college, in order to spend more time with his 1-year-old son, Lucca, and wife Jeanne Golay. “I’m happy and healthy and I’m really interested in spending more time with the little guy as he grows up,” Trapani said.Owen Leonard, director of CDOT Region 3 and Trapani’s immediate supervisor, said he has yet to begin the process of choosing a replacement. He said someone will likely be asked to fill Trapani’s position on a temporary basis until a permanent replacement can be found.”Ralph’s been with us for a long time. We’re losing a lot of experience,” Owen said.Trapani moved to Boulder from Buffalo, N.Y., in the early 1970s. The move was a big one, because it meant turning down an academic scholarship at a college in New York state in order to pursue ski racing at the University of Colorado. Trapani, a second-generation Italian American, says he came from a very modest background.He graduated CU in 1974 with a degree in civil engineering and joined the Colorado Department of Highways in Glenwood Springs in July 1975.”I hadn’t been to Glenwood Springs until I interviewed for the job, and they asked me to go up there and see what I thought,” Trapani said. “But frankly, I needed a job so badly that it didn’t matter what I thought. I had to take it.”At the time, Interstate 70 was just being extended past Silt. Trapani says he spent his first week pounding stakes along the planned entrance into Rifle. He moved quickly up the ladder from stake pounder to inspector and finally to acting project engineer on the entrance into Rifle.Trapani said it was in Rifle that he received his first lesson in community relations, at least from a highway engineer’s perspective. The new road had a number of design challenges, though minor compared to his later work, that affected residents of the community. Trapani was noticed for getting a reluctant community on board with a project that may have seemed pointless in the mid-1970s.”That was my first experience processing people’s concerns in connection with a project,” Trapani said.From there his career moved east, to the Vail Pass project which was just under way. One of Trapani’s jobs included setting up a method for administrating a multimillion-dollar highway project being built under strict environmental criteria.”We at the highway department were at an embryonic state of knowing we needed to protect the environment, but we just didn’t have the experience or the administrative skills to keep contractors in line,” he said.In 1980, Trapani was selected to be the program engineer on the next big phase of I-70 construction: Glenwood Canyon. Trapani’s boss told him he was hired partly because his work at CU focused on architecture and design, and partly because of his success with the residents of Rifle.The state’s plans to build a four-lane highway through the canyon drew several years of protests, culminating with singer John Denver’s dramatic and symbolic toss of a silver dollar from the canyon’s rim. Trapani was hired to oversee the project from its start on a drafting table to its completion at the official ribbon-cutting ceremony. It was his only assignment for 12 years.Trapani’s work on the canyon has been lauded both inside and outside the state. He and his team have been recognized by public and private organizations for their engineering skills and environmental sensitivity. As recently as April 15 of this year, I-70 was named as one of Colorado’s top two transportation projects of the 20th century by Washington, D.C.-based American Road & Transportation Builders Association, partly because of the work in Glenwood Canyon.After the canyon was finished in 1992, Trapani was asked to take on the Basalt-to-Buttermilk segment of Highway 82. The road had been expanded to four lanes between Glenwood Springs and Basalt, but little had been done to punch through the next segment. Many people believe that without Trapani’s skills and experience, the four-lane highway would still end in Basalt. “I think it’s a fair statement,” Trapani’s boss, Leonard, said. “Ralph’s knowledge about the project delivery process has been instrumental in getting Highway 82 done.”Trapani’s announcement comes just a few days after he helped convince the city of Aspen to hand over several acres of the Marolt open space that are needed for the final phase of Highway 82’s expansion – the Entrance to Aspen.Trapani says every day at work was a great day during the Glenwood Canyon project, but Highway 82 has been a little more difficult. Just last week, a letter to the editor published in The Aspen Times called for Trapani’s jailing for the Marolt open space decision.”I’m not an elected official, I’m a government engineer. It gets a little bit hard when you get up in the morning, open the paper and read those kind of personal attacks,” he said.Overall, however, Trapani says he is grateful for the opportunity to work in the Roaring Fork Valley. Highway engineering, he noted, can be a fairly uneventful career, but he got to work on projects that were challenging from nearly every angle and work with some of the nation’s top minds, like Amory Lovins and Fritz Benedict.”I think Ralph’s retirement is a big loss to the valley,” said Pitkin County Commissioner Mick Ireland. “Without Ralph we would still be dealing with a pretty dangerous two-lane highway and little chance of funding an upgrade.”
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