Voters must support bridge replacement |

Voters must support bridge replacement

Last week’s agreement by government leaders in the upper Roaring Fork Valley to spend $1.5 million on design work for a new Maroon Creek bridge was welcome news indeed.

Two major repair efforts in the last three months have made it obvious that the bridge must be replaced sooner rather than later.

The thinking behind the agreement is that, by spending money now to get the process rolling, local governments stand to attract state and federal dollars later.

At the moment, there is no state or federal money set aside to replace the slowly crumbling 116-year-old span. But the Colorado Department of Transportation has indicated that if local money were spent on design, the state would immediately begin seeking federal dollars for construction.

There’s no guarantee those dollars will become available, and there’s no guarantee the design money will ever be reimbursed. But The Aspen Times believes the expenditure is a worthwhile gamble. If putting up the $1.5 million means Aspen gets a new bridge in five years instead of 10, then it’s money well spent.

We can only put so many Band-Aids on this bridge. And CDOT’s promises that the bridge can be kept safe for another couple of decades are starting to sound hollow in light of the recent repairs, one of which closed the bridge to heavy-truck traffic for several days.

There still remains one major hurdle to its replacement, though. Aspen voters must authorize the use of open space for a new bridge before it can be built. That vote needs to take place soon, since it makes no sense for CDOT to pursue construction money if a bridge can’t legally be built.

Aspen voters have already authorized the bridge right of way once, but the ballot language specified a plan for two lanes of traffic and light rail. Since the rail effort has died, voters must authorize a bridge to carry two lanes of car traffic and two dedicated bus lanes.

And that has us a little worried, coming on the heels of the most recent failed Entrance to Aspen question.

We fear the specter of a “four-lane bridge” could lead to another divisive election battle and, possibly, a “no” vote.

Councilman Terry Paulson has already spoken out against the four-lane span, calling instead for local governments to spend the $1.5 million repairing the existing bridge. But, as Mayor Helen Klanderud said, “It’s like a car that has 200,000 miles on it, and you keep putting money into it. At what point do you buy a new car?”

Highway 82 is already four lanes wide, with dedicated bus lanes on either end of the bridge. Building a two-lane bridge would be foolish and shortsighted.

The Times urges everyone to support the effort to replace the bridge ” with the appropriate traffic restrictions attached ” and make sure the $1.5 million isn’t wasted.