A quick, easy answer? Nope. | AspenTimes.com

A quick, easy answer? Nope.

Mick Ireland

I must take issue with some of the criticisms leveled at the Board of County Commissioners with respect to Highway 82 and the Entrance to Aspen.One of the commissioner candidates, Jim True, claims nothing has been done on the entrance, that he will get us “off the dime” with a quick and workable solution to relieve traffic congestion.”We have not gotten any further along in the past ten years since I left the board,” he says.Before reviewing his proposed solution, which is neither quick nor cheap, I would like to point out that the board has been very proactive in addressing traffic and transportation during the last ten years: Working through the CDOT process at the state and local level as chairman of the five county Regional Planning Commission, I helped obtain $109 million for the Snowmass Canyon upgrade. Only a few years ago, working with the City of Aspen and Snowmass Village through the EOTC, Aspen and Pitkin County provided matching funds of approximately $2.5 toward the $20 million Maroon Creek Bridge upgrade now under construction. Again, in cooperation with CDOT, we planned and built the Roundabout. Pitkin County advanced the entire $6 million cost and we were reimbursed $4.8 million by CDOT. The project was on time and on budget and used local impact fees rather than tax dollars for the local match. It remains a vast improvement over the stoplights that preceded it. Finally, we worked with the state legislature, three counties and nine towns to create the first rural Regional Transportation Authority in the state, a template that even Colorado Springs now emulates. CDOT also accepted my suggestion and put a RFTA bus barn item on the Referendum D list in 2005. Although the question failed, it was the first time a statewide CDOT bond question included local transit here in the valley.In the past 10 years, the entrance has been voted on twice. City voters rejected both solutions, light rail and modified direct. In the most recent election in 2002, the county commissioners referred the S curves to the voters in the county as a whole. By a vote of 3,056 to 2,938, county voters rejected the modified direct in favor of the S curves.A four-lane solution on the S curves failed the environmental clearance process 10 years ago. CDOT cannot, by law, spend money on alignments that do not have environmental clearance.A new environmental clearance would cost $2 million to $3 million. Under the present CDOT budget constraints, that would mean $2 million to $3 million in local funding or a very long wait, as this project is not even a part of the 2035 state plan. Even if added to the plan, it would have to compete with hundreds of regional projects totaling billions of dollars to get any funding.Engineers who do not want to be part of the political controversy tell me that constructing the four lane S curves project without clearance would mean at least $20 million in local tax dollars. Without an EIS clearance, Aspen would have to assume responsibility for the care and maintenance of that segment of highway forever, assuming CDOT would relinquish control.Historic properties cited in the existing EIS along that alignment must be addressed and the inevitable lawsuit would have to be fought no matter who builds the project.I applaud Jim True for taking on this issue and offering a solution, albeit a flawed one. I appreciate Rachel’s advocacy, her hard work in the election campaigns promoting solutions and her work in creating both RFTA and the RTA. I hope all of us will think carefully before grabbing for quick, easy answers when hard work and patient consensus building is the real answer to the problem and the only combination that has proven successful in the past.Nothing about highway funding is quick, easy or cheap. After 10 years, $131 million in CDOT funding, more than 100 meetings in the region or in Denver and 60,000 miles of travel on behalf of this county and the region for transit and transportation, I am proud of the board’s accomplishments in this area.Mick Ireland is the Pitkin County commissioner for District 2. Editor’s note: Soapbox runs weekly on the Sunday opinion page. This spot is a forum for valley residents to comment on local topics. If you’d like to contribute, contact Naomi Havlen at The Aspen Times at 925-3414, extension 17624 or e-mail nhavlen@aspentimes.com.