A history of Entrance votes
It would seem that if Helen Palmer wants to present her view of the voting history of the Entrance to Aspen she could simply so do (Letters, Aug. 1). Instead, her skewed version of the past came with the implication that I have some responsibility to respond to her selective recollections.Let’s pretend for a moment that Helen simply requested some historical clarification, which I would be happy to provide. Should I begin in 1970, when an Aspen City Council first asked the state of Colorado to hold off on four-laning the entrance while they studied mass transit alternatives? I suppose 37 years of failed public policy is as good a context as any, especially since county voters approved a four lane that same year.In 1982, the state had just enough money to do a phased improvement consisting of a two lane extension of Main Street through the Marolt property, much like the “split pairs” alignment which pops up periodically. The other two lanes were to be moved over to create a standard four lane when funding allowed. I still have a clipping from The Aspen Times from four days before the election on the subject of voter confusion over the proposal, and it lost.Since everyone seemed to realize that everyone was confused, Pitkin County commissioners placed a question on the ballot they thought would be impervious to misunderstanding. In 1984, 80 percent of Pitkin County (Aspen precincts – 78 percent) voted in favor of a four lane highway from Basalt to Aspen.At the time of that vote, I was serving on an ad hoc citizen’s committee simply called the Traffic Committee. We thoroughly examined 19 alternatives for the Entrance over more than a year. Despite the diversity of the group, we always came back to the obvious: The simplest, cleanest, least impacting and most effective solution was to construct a softly curving four lane highway through the Marolt which directly connected to Main Street at Seventh Street.We reported this conclusion to the City Council, with a request that they place the proposal on the ballot, but were told the voters must be offered a choice. Fine, said we, place a question asking voters to choose between expanding the existing alignment, or the Direct Connection. Nope, voters must be allowed to vote “No” on both. Why have two separate questions, given that we already knew that a huge majority supported a four lane, making the alignment the only remaining issue?Then-mayor Bill Stirling came up with an answer unique in the annals of creative interpretation. He had concluded that the phrase “Basalt to Aspen” simply meant to the city limits out by the Maroon Creek Bridge, not a complete link in the highway between the two towns. No such distinction had been made during the election, of course, but we learned that the county’s faith in a really plain and simple question was ultimately naive.In the ensuing election, 49 percent of the voters favored the Marolt alignment; 25 percent supported expanding the S-curves to four lanes. In spite of a 74 percent support for a four-lane highway in one place or the other, neither specific alignment received a majority vote. So no, Helen, I have not forgotten the 1986 vote, but if no decision is reached, you can’t very well claim it as a decision in favor of the 26 percent minority who wanted to keep two lanes.We move on to 1990, when a city staffer created a two step solution to the “three options cancel out the majority” problem. The first ballot question asked for approval of the use of land acquired for open space for a four lane highway on either alignment. Sixty-eight percent of Aspen voters said yes. The second question posed a head-to-head choice between the Marolt and existing alignments. Fifty-six percent chose the Marolt.Why wasn’t the new entrance built in 1991, when the money was available and the state was ready to issue a Record of Decision based on the option chosen by the voters? Three city council members refused to honor the will of the majority. In so doing, they also refused to proceed with the one and only decision which has ever attracted the unqualified and unconditional support of a majority of Aspen voters.Helen Palmer then chose to promote a complete falsehood: “He also disregards the several votes since 1990 when the voters have similarly spoken against four lanes through the open space.”The truth is that there has not been a single opportunity for Aspenites to vote on a four-lane highway through the Marolt property since 1990. Not one. Elected officials have never placed such a question on the ballot again, no doubt in recognition that it would probably be approved. (That’s not the answer they want, but the reasons for that would need to be the subject of another article.)If Helen is truly concerned about my ability to remember the past history of the Entrance, I would first assure her that this article was written entirely from memory. Also, everything about the current petition drive is based on what we have learned from those past votes, especially 1986 and 1990.A two-step question like that in 1990 is easy to write as an advisory question, but we don’t need another vote that can be ignored by City Council. In order to be a binding vote in which the choice of the electorate is adopted as city policy without the need for council approval, we must use the initiative process. That means any question must be written as a formal ordinance, and the two step process, one question being dependent on the outcome of a previous question, is very difficult to adapt.There has been only one new wrinkle in the four-lane entrance proposal since 1990, a design element called a “cut and cover tunnel,” but that has created a new potential for three options (status quo, four lanes with tunnel, or four lanes without tunnel) to obscure a majority preference for four lanes.When Aspen voters approved the first of the two ballot questions in 1990, 68 percent were essentially saying they wanted a four-lane badly enough that they would settle for either alignment. Today, asking voters to sign petitions for, and approve, both design options for the Direct Connection is the equivalent request to that first question posed in 1990 – essentially saying that tunnel or not, either version is better than what we have now. The difference this time is that both alternatives stand on their own as independent ordinances without the need for a follow up question.Putting out false information is easy. A single sentence will suffice because there is no supporting information to get in the way. A correction based on facts can run much longer, and that is part of the political strategy of those who want to block a new entrance. They depend on an avalanche of short pithy falsehoods on everything – history, legality, process, whatever, in the belief that the public doesn’t have the patience to learn the truth.It is entirely possible that the truth won’t matter in this election. You either want to keep the traffic jam or you don’t. There may be no more to it, but since Helen was kind enough to ask …Jeffrey Evans is a resident of Basalt.