Paul Andersen: Which road to perdition? |

Paul Andersen: Which road to perdition?

A reader informed me that last week’s column (“The Straights vs. the Curves”) contained an error. The four-lane does not plow straight into town, as I had suggested. It stops at Buttermilk and only two lanes of traffic, plus a mass-transit corridor, will enter the city.

Phew! Now we can all rest assured that traffic will no longer be a problem in Aspen and that road rage will become a nostalgic memory, no matter which entrance is chosen.

To further familiarize myself with the coming election, I took the advice of my exasperated caller. He urged me to contact Assistant Aspen City Manager Randy Ready, “one of the only public officials who can present a non-biased viewpoint on this freaking thing.”

I phoned Ready and he faxed me a fact sheet that delineates the two entrance options slated for the November 5 ballot. The he threw me a curve: “This is a straw pole,” he said. “It is not legally binding.”

You mean that this election won’t really decide the Entrance to Aspen?

“That’s right,” said Ready. “In fact, it could even seriously jeopardize highway funding for the preferred alternative.”

The preferred alternative, which is commonly known as the “straight shot,” curves from the roundabout across the Marolt Open Space and enters Aspen, via a tunnel, directly onto Main Street.

Ready explained that this alignment was chosen by voters in 1996. Technically, the election on November 5 will not change that. Voters will have another say, but only for the benefit of advising city council and county commissioners on public opinion.

So, how can this election jeopardize highway funding?

Depending on the election results, local governments and highway advocates may engage in yet another hand-wringing debate over the Entrance to Aspen. While politicos pontificate, the $62.1 million in funding for this contentious four-mile stretch of highway could evaporate.

“The community has changed and so have the proposals,” acknowledged Ready. “Aspen is reflecting a statewide trend of turnover, mobility, population change and value shifts.”

In other words, population turnover in Aspen and Pitkin County could return a different vote every couple of years. The Roaring Fork Valley has one hell of a fickle constituency.

It is no wonder that Highway 82 has become one of the most alienating local issues in decades. The proposals have shifted, as has the voting population, keeping the issue fluid, volatile and painfully unresolved. No political advocacy can hold the line long enough to end it. Here’s why.

A friend who lived in Aspen for more than a decade was a staunch opponent of the four-lane until he moved downvalley two years ago. “When are they ever going to finish the damned thing?!” he sighed in frustration last week.

Another friend, who lived in Basalt for years and cursed the old two-lane highway, recently moved to Aspen. Now he suggests that the highway plans need careful scrutiny, even if it takes another decade of voting.

A longtime newspaper reporter in the valley, who has rewritten the highway entrance story a dozen times, threw up his hands recently. “I am so sick and tired of this issue, I don’t care if they four-lane the Rio Grande Trail. As long as they do something!”

[Paul Andersen knows that the road to hell is paved … and four-laned. His column appears on Mondays.]

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