Construction and gridlock
A recent letter to the editor clarified something of serious note that elected officials, planning departments, land developers and builders should heed. It astutely pointed out the reason Highway 82 in Aspen reaches gridlock on typical working days.The letter came from a daily bus commuter who observed how easily traffic flows through Aspen on holidays, while gridlock occurs on normal weekdays. The main difference in the commuter profile on those easy-flow days, he reasoned, was the absence of construction workers.Obviously, all commuters contribute to traffic congestion, but it’s become clear that construction trades have the biggest impact. Holiday and weekend traffic flow smoothly, even when service workers are in the greatest demand and commute to Aspen in the greatest numbers. There is another demographic at work here. Many service workers ride the bus, while most construction workers drive. Many service workers don’t need to haul tools and materials to their jobs, whereas construction workers do.Spending millions of dollars on traffic studies is unnecessary when it’s easy to document firsthand that traffic in the Roaring Fork Valley is jammed by construction. There is no mystery here. The big question is what to do about it.The knee-jerk solution is to spend many millions more on entrance designs, highway expansions, and traffic signals. Those millions come from taxpayers who end up subsidizing the gross profits of development and construction.The number of construction vehicles flooding in and out of Aspen is a direct result of the city’s growth rate. Managed growth is supposed to plan intelligently for the best rate and types of growth in order to alleviate negative impacts like pollution, crime, gridlock, etc. The best management would limit growth to a pre-gridlock level without relying on ever-expanding highways. No one benefits from traffic jams, and the idea of a six-lane Highway 82 is an insane vision for the Roaring Fork Valley.Gridlock is not just Aspen’s problem. The urbanizing of our roadways valleywide is eroding the rural ambiance that many of us value. Gridlock is the most obvious problem that reflects on the failure of local governments to manage growth, individually or collectively.Three counties and half-dozen municipalities divide the Roaring Fork Valley. There is no overseeing entity to evaluate growth and development impacts valleywide, so there is no comprehensive planning. Each governmental entity makes decisions based on parochial interests and often myopic views.Those views often lean toward development and construction because they are the bulwark of the regional economy. Aspen leads the charge, so that’s where most of the labor goes. Transportation is the weak link, so it breaks down most dramatically.Since development and construction are givens, they should be managed intelligently. In most cases, local governments have the autonomy to mandate slower growth rates in order to guarantee the safe, free flow of commerce and people on our roads.Construction impacts can be assessed before a project is approved, with a specific focus on traffic demand. Intelligent growth management would determine how much construction will gridlock the roads, then back it off from there. Quotas could award limited development rights to the most desirable types of growth.It is time to slow the juggernaut of development so that our communities are livable, so that road rage is not a daily occurrence, so that pollution doesn’t clog our lungs, so that noise doesn’t deafen our ears, so that commuting is not a demolition derby, so that parking is not a crazy game of motorized musical chairs in which you are the one left standing.Paul Andersen wonders if we have the political will and vision to manage our collective future. His column appears on Mondays.