Worm Hole relocation appears to help traffic flow
Basalt resident Chris Lane figured he gained about 19 minutes of productive time in his life yesterday.
Lane didn’t get up any earlier than usual, nor did he find some breakthrough with Einstein’s theory of relativity.
He simply earned the extra minutes on his commute upvalley thanks to the relocation of the infamous Worm Hole on Highway 82.
“It has cleaned up the traffic situation significantly,” said Lane, a Basalt town councilman who commutes to Snowmass Village for his job as director of environmental affairs for the Aspen Skiing Co.
The Worm Hole – the point where two highway lanes combine into one – was moved 1.6 miles east toward Aspen last Thursday. The move coincided with the expansion of the Holland Hills stretch of Highway 82 to four lanes.
Tuesday was the first day to really gauge the effectiveness of the project because the July 4 holiday altered traffic patterns.
Early indications are that relocation of the Worm Hole has helped traffic flow around Basalt. At prime commuting time, at 7:53 a.m. yesterday, upvalley traffic was stop-and-go for 0.7 of a mile leading to the Worm Hole. It took about 13 minutes to clear that congestion and speed up in the area by Lazy Glen Mobile Home Park.
In contrast, traffic was often backed up at least 1.5 miles and it took a minimum of 30 minutes to clear the Worm Hole when it was located on the east end of the Basalt Bypass.
Lane had his own horror story of previous conditions. He said it typically would take him 20 minutes to go from his house in Elk Run, travel to Basalt’s Midland Avenue, exit town via the roundabout then merge onto the highway and make it through the Worm Hole.
Tuesday it took 1 minute to get to the same point thanks to the reopening of the Highway 82-Two Rivers Road intersection. That intersection has been closed to traffic trying to enter the highway for the last five years. It was reopened with the addition of a traffic signal when the Holland Hills stretch made its debut Thursday.
So instead of heading west toward downtown Basalt to ultimately travel east on the highway, commuters like Lane were able to jump right on the highway.
Commuter Perry Harvey noted that, “the farther you get upvalley from the Basalt lights [with the Worm Hole] the better.” The congestion at the old Worm Hole was made worse because traffic was trying to flow in from the main Basalt stoplight – right into the thick of the highway traffic.
Although the flow appears to have improved, Harvey said he will stick to leaving his home at Basalt at 6 a.m. for his commute to his job as a real estate agent with Mason and Morse in Aspen. He said it’s still best to avoid traffic at prime commuting time.
The engineer overseeing the highway improvements said he’s got a few improvements in mind to improve merging in the morning at the new Worm Hole at the Wingo Bridge.
Ralph Trapani of the Colorado Department of Transportation said changes in signs and striping could help that situation. He also wants to use the space committed to a right-turn lane more effectively. CDOT is also looking for ways to allow RFTA buses to avoid the Worm Hole congestion and go all the way to the Lazy Glen bus stop before merging.
Although he’s looking for improvements, Trapani likes what he has seen so far. The Holland Hills expansion combined with an expanded stretch between Gerbazdale and Brush Creek Road are responsible for slicing between 25 and 30 minutes off the commute from midvalley, he claimed.
“One thing that’s clear is that things are changing,” Trapani said. “I’m just really pleased at the progress we’re making.”
But not all is rosy. Many commuters were either oblivious to or simply ignored the high occupancy vehicle lane that starts on the Basalt Bypass and continues through Wingo Bridge.
Scores of single-occupant vehicles yesterday sailed through the upvalley-bound lane that’s supposed to be reserved for vehicles with two or more occupants from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m.
One such driver said she was paying so much attention to the new traffic lanes and flow through that stretch that she only belatedly noticed the HOV requirement. When she finally noticed, she pulled into the appropriate lane, she said.
The expanded highway did little to help the flow of downvalley-bound traffic at around 5:15 p.m. Tuesday. Traffic was inexplicably slowed to a crawl for the half-mile, single-lane stretch between Old Snowmass and the Worm Hole.
Logic dictates that traffic should have been sailing through there since it turns to two lanes sooner than it used to. Sometimes, as Trapani will attest, Highway 82 traffic simply defies logic.
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