Skico brass: Let’s fix the Entrance
January 29, 2007
(Editor’s note: We are running this letter we received from top officials at the Aspen Skiing Co. as a guest opinion from the company regarding their position on the Entrance to Aspen.)This winter, a family staying in Snowmass was meeting friends at Aspen Mountain for a day of skiing. They hopped on the free skier shuttle, jazzed and ready to carve turns on fresh corduroy. They never connected with their friends, and missed the untracked groomers, because it took them two hours to get to the mountain. Their resolution: “We’ll never make the mistake of going to ski Aspen Mountain again.”We cast our resort as “The Power of Four.” That’s the magic of Aspen – four wonderful mountains, each with distinctive challenges, thrills and scenery. But the power of four is meaningless if you can’t get from mountain to mountain.This cluster jam of idling cars is a mockery of what Aspen stands for, the ideas modern Aspen was founded on, and the quality of life that keeps us here. It’s ruining our town. Visitors come to Aspen seeking a world-class resort, and find world-class gridlock. The hassles are even more painful and infuriating for the many thousands of residents and workers that get flogged each day running the gantlet.The nightmarish traffic patterns we are experiencing each morning and evening don’t just make us late and frustrated. They are harming the economy, the environment, and making Aspen significantly less attractive to tourists and commuters alike. If the situation remains unchanged and our guests actually choose to go elsewhere, what might a 10 percent, 15 percent or 20 percent dip in sales tax revenues do to the community? A 10 percent drop is almost a million dollars. If nothing changes, more and more of our potential work force will decide not to make the upvalley commute, worsening an already critical staffing crisis.The response from Aspen Skiing Co. is “enough”: Enough traffic. Enough hassle. Enough deadlock. The congestion is an embarrassment, a maddening reflection of civic paralysis. We’ve got to fix the Entrance to Aspen now. Our guests and workers demand and deserve a functional and civilized transit system – not this torturous entrance exam.The solution to the Entrance conundrum is not a mystery. The “preferred alternative” that was recently reaffirmed by the Colorado Department of Transportation is the product of years of research, hundreds of public meetings, and $4 million worth of analysis. Back in prehistoric times, before climate change and oil wars dominated the front pages, we studied 45 different alternatives and, as a community, determined that two lanes of traffic and two lanes of dedicated transit across the Marolt property was the preferred alternative. This option doesn’t please everyone – it’s not “perfect” – but we can’t keep making the perfect the enemy of the good. More to the point, the preferred alternative is the only solution we can actually build and have operating by 2014.Some people say we should go back to square one and start all over. That is misguided. It’s a recipe for another decade of delay, which we can’t afford. Ralph Trapani, the CDOT veteran who built both Glenwood Canyon and Snowmass Canyon, supports the preferred alternative. Indeed, he thinks it’s the only solution we’ve got a prayer of financing and building in a timely fashion.What are the first steps? In the near term, Trapani says we can improve traffic flow from the airport all the way to the roundabout by allowing RFTA buses to make greater use of existing shoulders and by widening that portion of the road in key places to create a continuous bus lane. The Aspen City Council should put a question on the May ballot to permit the use of slivers of open space from Buttermilk to the roundabout for this purpose. We also need to approve the use of the new Maroon Creek bridge for both the unrestricted lane and the bus way. The Marolt open space has been approved by city voters for the use of light rail, but not for bus lanes. In 2008, after the City Council’s public process has been completed, we urge city voters to approve the use of that land for bus lanes.Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke saw Aspen as a year-round cultural center, set in a place of great natural beauty, and rooted in the concept of a complete life, where mind, body and spirit are enriched. For tens of thousands of commuters, citizens and visitors who must suffer the last few miles of Highway 82 each day, mind, body and spirit are being eroded, not enriched.In Aspen, we pride ourselves on being a haven for intellect and the arts. But our years of wrangling over the Entrance, our obdurate, resolute refusal to resolve that critical transportation challenge, seems like folly.Enough. It’s time to fix the Entrance.This letter was signed by Skico executives Mike Kaplan, president/CEO; David Perry, senior vice president, Mountain Division; David Bellack, senior vice president/general counsel; David Corbin, vice president, planning and development; Matt Jones, vice president, CFO ; Jim Laing, vice president, human resources, rental/retail; Jeanne Mackowski, vice president, marketing; Don Schuster, vice president, real estate development; and Auden Schendler, managing director, community and environmental responsibility.