Voters to decide on bus lanes for Marolt property |

Voters to decide on bus lanes for Marolt property

Janet Urquhart

Aspen is preparing to ask city voters in May for permission to build dedicated bus lanes along with a two-lane highway across the Marolt Open Space.

After a testy exchange between Mayor Rachel Richards and Councilman Terry Paulson Wednesday, the City Council directed City Attorney John Worcester to prepare a ballot question for their consideration.

The federal government’s Record of Decision on the entrance to Aspen allows two highway lanes plus a mass transit component across the open space. The document contains provisions for light rail or an interim busway.

What’s missing, said Worcester, is voter approval for the busway alternative. In 1996, voters in Aspen agreed to use of the open space to straighten out Highway 82 and create a two-lane parkway with light-rail tracks running alongside. Any conversion of open space requires voter approval.

With the city ready to start lobbying the Colorado Department of Transportation to move forward with the last leg of Highway 82 improvements – the stretch from the Maroon Creek roundabout into town – it’s time to get voter approval for the busway, argued Richards.

“Without authorization, I think it puts us in an impossible position to legitimately talk with the state about allocating funding to this part of the road,” she said.

Paulson countered that it is inappropriate to move forward until a lawsuit filed by the Friends of Marolt over the entrance plan has been resolved. He also charged Richards with trying to turn the entrance into a political issue in the spring election.

Richards is seeking re-election in May. So far, the only challenger who has stepped forward is Helen Klanderud, a former Friends of Marolt board member.

Paulson also challenged Richards to put the Friends’ alternative for the entrance on the ballot. The group is pushing a roundabout at the Cemetery Lane intersection and at the two “S-curves” into town if a single roundabout at Cemetery Lane isn’t enough to ease congestion on Highway 82.

“If that was in the Record of Decision, I’d consider it,” Richards said.

Richards and other council members said they aren’t willing to scrap the lengthy work done to get a Record of Decision issued on the entrance plan and take up a new proposal that doesn’t accommodate rail.

The existing highway alignment and a bunch of roundabouts won’t work for rail, noted Richards, who expressed doubt that separate alignments for the highway and rail would ever be built. The Friends support a plan that leaves the highway where it is and routes just rail across Marolt.

“I know Jim [Markalunas] and Rachel will be shocked, but I want to make sure rail is not precluded,” Councilman Tony Hershey agreed.

The $60 million entrance plan outlined in the Record of Decision calls for rerouting two lanes of Highway 82 across the Marolt land, along with rail or an interim busway. It would cross a new bridge over Castle Creek and link up with Main Street to provide a straight shot into town. Some of the existing highway route would be converted into green space and part of the new highway across Marolt would be buried in a tunnel.

Since the community is not ready to move forward with rail, it’s time to poll the citizens on the busway alternative, according to Richards. “We need to let the people decide if that’s the direction we want to go in,” she said.

With the exception of Paulson, others on the council concurred.

“To have the confidence to go forward, I need the voters to speak,” said Councilman Tom McCabe.

Markalunas wants the ballot question to stress that the bus lanes are an interim measure, pending rail, and that the lanes won’t be opened to general traffic, in essence creating a four-lane highway into Aspen.

“I don’t want to see a Trojan Horse – basically a four-lane disguised in bus clothing,” he said.

The Friends’ lawsuit originally named the city, Pitkin County, CDOT and the U.S. Department of Transportation as plaintiffs and made various claims. Only the component challenging the federal government over the Record of Decision is still pending.

The lawsuit doesn’t preclude the city from getting the permission it needs for the busway, though actual construction shouldn’t occur until the litigation is resolved, Worcester said.

Klanderud, who said she is no longer involved with the Friends of Marolt, concurred with Paulson that a vote on the busway should be delayed until the suit is resolved.

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