Voters endorse bus lanes
ASPEN Aspen voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved two exclusive bus lanes and two lanes of general traffic from Buttermilk to the roundabout.By a margin of 1,345 to 797 – or 63 percent to 37 percent – voters gave the Aspen City Council the go-ahead to amend the 2002 right of way across city-owned open space for a two-lane parkway with two exclusive bus lanes along the 1.2-mile stretch. The former right of way called for light rail only.The vote does not offer any solution to the most controversial stretch – from the roundabout to the city center.Officials will use $7.8 million in funds from a special half-penny transit tax, said assistant city manager Randy Ready. Construction will get under way as soon as possible and is slated for completion by winter 2008-09, Ready said. The Maroon Creek Bridge, now under construction, is wide enough for four lanes, but only has approval for two lanes of general traffic one in each direction. The vote allowing bus lanes will save taxpayers as much as $500,000 the cost of building a wide median that would be torn out if the bridge was converted for four lanes of use later, Ready said.”I think the overall message is the community wants to see Highway 82 improvements now,” said Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards, a former Aspen mayor and council member who campaigned with Better Efficient Safe Transportation for the bus lanes.With backing from the likes of Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud, Auden Schendler of the Aspen Skiing Co. and Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis, the campaign “had a face,” Richards said. Meanwhile, Entrance Solution, which opposes the bus lanes in favor of a solution that allows four lanes with an HOV component, had $20,000 in contributions, mainly from anonymous donors. “I think that hurt them considerably,” Richards said.”It was very, very disappointing, particularly to see the turnout,” said Jeffrey Evans, a member of Entrance Solution.”It’s a desperation vote. They’ll vote for anything as long as something happens,” Evans said. During months of community forums on the Entrance to Aspen, only a small percentage of Aspen voters wanted exclusive bus lanes, Evans said.”Clearly [voters] think they are accomplishing something different than what they were voting on,” Evans said.”It does lay pavement,” Evans said of the planned construction. He believes, however, that voter approval of the exclusive bus lanes will make it difficult to reopen the Environmental Impact Statement and build any Entrance to Aspen solution other than the so-called “preferred alternative” two lanes of general traffic plus bus lanes or light rail.Despite the loss, Evans said Entrance Solution would “go full speed ahead” on the November initiative to create four lanes of traffic, including HOV lanes, to town.”It’s the first phase in trying to get the entire entrance issue resolved,” Klanderud said of Tuesday’s vote.Richards said the vote was just one step in the process and does not preclude other solutions, but added that the funding is designated for transit solutions, and opening the Record of Decision – which she said would be costly and time-consuming – and implementing any other solution would require builders to repay to the fund.Voters reactPatric Gorbitz voted for the bus lanes “just to help speed” along the congested stretch, he said, but added, “I think it’s just putting a Band-Aid on a bigger issue.””I would’ve been really enthusiastic about light rail,” said former Aspen City Councilman Jim Markalunas, but he added that the bus lanes are the next step.”This is better than doing nothing at all,” said Gert Van Moorsel, who attended some of the Entrance to Aspen open forums.”I voted ‘no’ because I don’t really want to see more lanes coming to Aspen,” said Nick DeVore. He thinks Aspen should be closed to all but essential auto traffic, and visitors should park on the outskirts of town and use public transit.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is email@example.com.
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