Aspen City Manager: Replacing Castle Creek Bridge takes commitment, money, and patience
The past month’s work on the Castle Creek Bridge has involved much-needed repairs, but it’s been a painful experience in traffic management for our community. It is also a catalyst for a much-needed community conversation around Aspen’s future ability to manage greenhouse-gas emissions, preserve our quality of life and recognize the realities of the change happening around us.
Our community needs to plan now for the construction of a new bridge as the existing bridge comes to the end of its design life. It is a simply stated need that is hugely complex to complete. The current bridge was constructed in 1961 and was estimated to meet Aspen’s needs through 2036. Our Highway 82 is one of the most heavily-traveled, two-lane roadways in the state.
The $12.4 million Colorado Department of Transportation is spending now to repair Highway 82 along with the bridge will hopefully eke out a few more useful years towards 2036.
Later this fall, CDOT staff will conduct a bi-annual bridge inspection to evaluate the bridge conditions and let the city staff know what they found. (P.S.: Cue up another lane closure for the inspection work). However, major repairs will be a regular fixture until we can unite our community to build a new bridge.
So, how do we get a new bridge? It will take three things — commitment, money and patience. Without any of these, we will continue in the cyclical vortex of studies, razor-thin advisory votes and frustrations, as the existing bridge continues to age.
Commitment: We must commit to the hard work and stamina to brave eight to 12 years to line up the necessary resources, meet state/federal requirements and endure the construction.
This also means a commitment to collaboration — not only with CDOT and the Federal Highway Administration, but also with local governments and, especially, the community. Together, we can figure out the best plan for the next generation of Aspen’s transportation future. Regardless of what new bridge is built, we will need support from our community.
Money: Back in the mid-’90s, CDOT in partnership with a community advisory board (which had dozens of meetings with hundreds of citizens) and elected local leaders came up with what is called the “preferred alternative.”
This new alignment extends Main Street directly west out of town across a new bridge over Castle Creek, connecting with Highway 82 just past the roundabout. The reality is this plan, or any new bridge construction, will be an expensive endeavor.
A very knowledgeable engineer suggested off the record that the new bridge project will cost more than $100 million. In my recently released 2023-26 budgets, I’m recommending the city spend $8.5 million over the next four years to jump start work, including reaching 50% completion on construction drawings.
But, this is just the beginning. Our community must compete for limited funds in the woefully underfunded transportation system in the state.
Patience: We must focus on the preservation, safety and evacuation of our community, while addressing this critical transportation improvement.
Our work implementing the new Castle Creek bridge will benefit us in the short-term, but we are truly planning for future generations of Aspenites. These projects take years.
The first step is to bring everyone up to speed on the work and community involvement that has gone into the entrance to Aspen planning so far, where we are today and what the next steps will be. The city will do this through a community awareness campaign, a recommended step by the Federal Highway Administration, that will start this month.
Then, a resolution declaring the community’s determination to move forward will be presented to City Council. I am hopeful this resolution can be introduced by Q2 2023.
I encourage to you engage with the city’s upcoming community-awareness process. Many of you are new to town in the past 10 years and may not be aware of the history, multiple options and tireless work that has been put into this important project in the past 25-plus years.
I am looking forward to engaging with you on this need.
Aspen, let’s get serious about addressing our bridge.
Sara Ott is the Aspen City manager. She can be reached at Sara.Ott@aspen.gov.