Aspen Times editorial: Basalt, Eagle County should fund coordinated traffic study before it’s too late
The elected officials from Basalt and Eagle County are holding a joint meeting Tuesday. While that is usually about as exciting as watching paint dry, this meeting could and should have important implications for the midvalley.
After a period of limited development during and immediately after the Great Recession, activity is heating up in Basalt and El Jebel. The Eagle County commissioners are reviewing major housing projects called The Fields (across Highway 82 from the Blue Lake entrance) and the Tree Farm (across Highway 82 from Whole Foods).
The proposals call for a combined 450 residences, which translates into 1,000-plus people outside an incorporated town.
Meanwhile, Basalt is in the final review stage of the 156-unit Stott’s Mill project in the Southside neighborhood, which has one ingress and egress via Basalt Avenue.
Those are just the projects in the planning pipeline. The two governments have already approved some much-needed affordable housing. The Crawford family is adding 46 units to the El Jebel Mobile Home Park. Willits Town Center is putting finishing touches on 50 apartments that will be rented under affordable-housing guidelines and is constructing 27 affordable-housing condominiums that will be sold to the downvalley school district and other entities.
The Roaring Fork Apartments adjacent to Stubbies bar will add another 56 apartments at rents well below market rates.
All of these developments will add significantly to the traffic on Highway 82 and side streets. Despite being a transit-oriented development — with 86 percent of residences within one-quarter mile of a major bus stop — the Tree Farm will still generate more than 5,000 average vehicle trips per weekday, according to a traffic study.
Each of the projects conducts their own traffic study. They all reach the same conclusion — the roads will be able to handle our traffic.
We’re not so sure. Commuters are experiencing massive afternoon rush-hour delays getting through the gauntlet of stop lights in the Basalt-El Jebel corridor. It rivals the delays exiting Aspen.
We’ve been distressed to hear some midvalley elected officials write off traffic as a necessary byproduct of density. That’s ridiculous. If the infrastructure — such as a four-lane highway — cannot handle the projected growth in a reasonable way, the density must be decreased.
The elected officials of Basalt and Eagle County need to lead on this issue. At a minimum, they must jointly fund a coordinated traffic study by an independent source unaffiliated with a proposed development. The goal of the study must be to determine how much growth Highway 82 and its primary arteries can absorb without strangling the midvalley in congestion and pollution. Then they must let the carrying capacity dictate the rate and size of their approvals.
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