Tunnel or pedestrian overpass for Aspen highway crossing? | AspenTimes.com

Tunnel or pedestrian overpass for Aspen highway crossing?

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Courtesy of Parsons Transportation Group

ASPEN – With the state’s help, Pitkin County government is looking to spend millions of dollars to provide a safer place to cross Highway 82 between the Aspen Business Center and the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport.

There’s a lot more to it than that, which is why county officials and planners held a “public design charette” Thursday evening at Colorado Mountain College’s Aspen campus. They sought feedback from the public on preliminary plans for the project, and invited area residents to toss in a few ideas of their own.

One-third of the way into the three-hour event, about 20 people had showed up to look over the four options laid out on different tables. There are pedestrian overpass and underpass designs for two separate locations: a spot just south of the main thoroughfare leading into the ABC, Baltic Avenue; and a spot farther upvalley that’s closer to the southern end of West Airport Road.

Whatever design or location is chosen, it likely will be connected to both sides of the highway – and thus, areas of the airport and business center – with a labyrinth of sidewalks, trails and plaza areas on each side.

The challenge with the project, said planner Stan Clauson of Stan Clauson Associates, is picking the location that will serve the most people. Some believe that the prime spot is next to Baltic Avenue, the main gateway between the airport and business center. It’s also closer to the North 40 residential area and the college.

Others say the spot about 100 yards or so upvalley from Baltic is a better plan for the future, given the growth expected to occur at the BMC property the city purchased for the local affordable housing program, as well as the proximity to both phases of the Burlingame housing developments.

“Our task, and it hasn’t been entirely easy, is to try to figure out where the so-called ‘center of gravity’ is, to locate a crossing so it would serve the greatest number of people,” Clauson said.

Focus group meetings so far have been held with city of Aspen, CMC, RFTA and ABC stakeholders. The ABC crowd showed more support than the others for the overpass, or bridge, option, Clauson said.

Each option carries a different estimated price tag:

Option 1, the underpass (or tunnel) nearest Baltic, would cost $4.94 million, plus another $880,000 involving related offsite work, such as utilities connections.

Option 2, the overcrossing (or pedestrian bridge) nearest Baltic, would cost $4.44 million, plus $850,000 for offsite work.

Option 3, the overcrossing farther upvalley, would cost $2.17 million, plus $505,000 for offsite work.

Option 4, the underpass farther upvalley, would cost $1.9 million, plus $866,000 for offsite work.

County engineer G.R. Fielding said the Colorado Department of Transportation has agreed to pay up to $1.5 million toward the initiative. It made the wish list for 2016-17 funding, he said.

The project also might be eligible for other state and federal grants, especially since there are RFTA bus stops on each side of the highway between the two proposed locations.

Fielding said the project is being planned with other ongoing studies in mind, including the Airport Master Plan and the Aspen Area Community Plan.

Parsons Transportation Group of Denver, which had representatives at Thursday’s charette, was hired by the county as the lead consultant, with responsibilities for designs and engineering. Clauson Associates is the subcontractor involved in preliminary planning and public outreach, said Ralph Trapani, program director for Parsons.

In scattered comments jotted down at the four tables, people expressed disdain for both overpass options, saying that a span would affect mountain views. However, some expressed support for the pedestrian bridge idea, saying it would make a statement and serve as an artificial gateway into Aspen.

“The overcrossing doesn’t need to make a statement – the mountains are the statement,” one participant wrote.

Another person remarked that the upvalley location would be “too far away from the concentration of people who live and work at ABC.”