Smaller changes may help Entrance to Aspen

Yasmine Depagter and Jack SimmonsAspen, CO Colorado

Mick Ireland’s recent guest opinion in The Aspen Times (“No Entrance solution easy,” Feb. 14) forces us to fill in the gaps – some pretty important gaps at that.We agree with Mick that there is no easy or perfect Entrance solution. But it’s all the harder to find one when the alternative that is the quickest to achieve, the cheapest to build, the least Draconian and the most protective of our town’s unique character is omitted from the lineup of possibilities, as Mick does. Those of us who support open space and the existing alignment are not proposing a “no-build” alternative. To the contrary, we are proposing an IMPROVEMENT NOW alternative – build immediate, cost-effective, smaller incremental improvements on present Highway 82 to improve flow using EOTC money already in the bank. The improvements would include (1) a roundabout at Cemetery Lane, an underpass or roundabout at Truscott and a roundabout or underpass at Buttermilk and Harmony Road to eliminate traffic lights that are the cause of so much of the delay, and (2) a reversible third lane added to the existing Castle Creek bridge, together with a softening of the S-curves, which already are wider than the existing Glenwood bridge, to provide for an exclusive bus (and possibly HOV) lane incoming in the mornings and outgoing in the afternoons (possibly expanded to exclusive bus lanes each way if necessary). This would accomplish IMPROVEMENT NOW without years of study and delay and at a fraction of the $55 million cost of CDOT’s proposal – which CDOT admits it has no money to fund anyway, either now or dedicated in the future.IMPROVEMENT NOW is the only plan that is consistent with the latest vote just five years ago. When the voters then were given a simple, uncluttered question – where do you prefer the entrance: on the present alignment or across the Marolt? – they voted by a substantial majority in the city to keep it right where it is and by a majority in the county as well. Some might say, “Well, there have been lots of votes.” True, but there never before was a simple up or down question posed based on location, not complicated by all the ifs and conditions based on the mode of transportation. CDOT doesn’t even acknowledge that vote in its recent reaffirmation of the Record of Decision. Nor does Mick, which, coming from a savvy politician, is even more surprising.Mick points to a recent newspaper poll and concludes that supporters of the Modified Direct (two traffic and two bus lanes across the Marolt Open Space) would win an election today. We wonder if the random sampling reported in the Times on Feb. 11 wouldn’t be more predictive. There, only one of six persons picked at random off the streets wanted a four-lane (the “build it and they [the cars] will come” alternative). CDOT keeps referring to the Modified Direct as the “Preferred Alternative.” Preferred by whom? Or as Su Lum noted in her recent column, “Preferred? Not Really” (Feb. 7). Preferred maybe by CDOT, which gives it that title, but clearly not by the people who took the time and effort to attend the community meetings on the Entrance subject at the high school cafeteria on a Wednesday night and a Saturday a few weeks ago.There was a great deal of interest at those meetings focused on an IMPROVEMENT NOW alternative. The city says that adding two bus lanes from Buttermilk to the Maroon Creek roundabout, which will be on the May ballot, would reduce peak-hour bus transit incoming by 10 to 15 minutes and outbound by 10 minutes. CDOT calculates that the so-called Preferred Alternative from Buttermilk to 7th and Main would save three minutes in commuting time for cars at peak periods. Does it make any sense to cut through the heart of a beautiful park and open space with a $55 million swath of concrete and steel, that the local citizenry would have to pay for, in order to accomplish a car travel savings of three minutes? Our plan for roundabouts or underpasses to replace signals should save at least that three minutes. The existing Entrance, which we propose to improve, slows traffic naturally, which is needed given the flows on Main Street, protects open space and preserves the unique character of the town.CDOT’s plan doesn’t deal with many of the problems that are being encountered. The roundabout would still be bookended by signals, which makes absolutely no sense, because it does nothing about the lights on 82 west of Cemetery Lane. While it does remove the light at Cemetery Lane, it substitutes a brand new light at 7th and Main that will just become the new hold up (CDOT has already found that the space at 7th and Main is too limited to build a roundabout as could be done now at Cemetery Lane). And, yes, it would become the light at the end of the tunnel – a 400-foot cut and cover tunnel through the Marolt, an essential ingredient of CDOT’s plan to attempt to achieve environmental acceptability even as park and open space land is taken, but opposed by many because of its claustrophobic impact on the Entrance experience. Ironically, it is CDOT’s choice that is really the “do nothing” alternative given its huge expense and the fact that CDOT has no funds available build it.Mick urges a compromise and many supporters of open space and the existing alignment agree. The compromise should be phased. It should be IMPROVEMENT NOW on the existing alignment. Down the road, if more is needed, build rail. By then, we should be ready as a community for a first class, unique way to enter our unique town.Just do it! IMPROVEMENT NOW.Yasmine Depagter and Jack Simmons are residents of Aspen.