Town Council coming around to idea of another roundabout in Snowmass Village

Latest design update shrinks footprint of proposed intersection project

A rendering of a proposed roundabout at Brush Creek Road and Owl Creek Road in Snowmass Village shows a smaller footprint than earlier iterations. The update to the plan designed by SGM, an engineering, consulting and surveying company, was presented to Town Council on Feb. 8, 2021.
Town of Snowmass Village/Courtesy image

It’s been a long road to acceptance for a re-envisioned intersection at Brush Creek Road and Owl Creek Road in Snowmass Village.

The proposal to take a circular approach to the current T-shaped crossing has been around for more than a decade but hit roadblocks of resistance as recently as 2019 from Town Council and village residents concerned about the necessity of the project and its possible impact on the “community character” of the town.

But if a Feb. 8 work session is any indication, Town Council is starting to come around to the idea of another roundabout in Snowmass Village.

“I’m slowly getting on board,” Councilman Bob Sirkus said during the Feb. 8 update to the roundabout design plans.

Public Works Director Anne Martens presented the pared-down design with a smaller footprint than the plans presented more than a year ago; council was divided, 3-2, when they gave town staff the green light to move forward with the completion of that design in December 2019.

Then-Mayor Markey Butler, Councilwoman Alyssa Shenk and then-Councilman Bill Madsen voted to give the go-ahead; Sirkus and Councilman Tom Goode were opposed.

“Since the last time that we discussed this topic, we heard loud and clear that there was concern about the over-footprint,” Martens said.

Vehicles utilize the intersection of Brush Creek Rd. and Owl Creek Rd. in Snowmass Village on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Among the changes in the latest iteration, the plans no longer include a “slip lane,” an extra branch of the roadway that would have allowed drivers heading out of town to bypass the roundabout to access Owl Creek Road.

The update lessens the roundabout’s impact on surrounding land, helping to address one of the primary concerns related to the proposal: size.

The diameter of the roundabout is on par with previous iterations of the design — 115 feet, the same as the more egg-shaped roundabout at the intersection of Brush Creek, Kearns and Wood roads and a bit smaller than the 130-foot roundabout at Brush Creek and Highline roads — but the lack of a slip lane reduces how much the infrastructure would cut into the surrounding natural landscape.

“I appreciate that you’ve made it a lot smaller and tighter than it was,” Councilman Tom Fridstein said.

Plus, the new design would require pedestrians to cross only two lanes of traffic at Owl Creek Road rather than the previously proposed three. (Two other potential crossings on either side of the roundabout both technically cross three lanes because the walkways begin on the curb side of bus pullouts that would run parallel to Brush Creek Road.)

“In my opinion, it’s much improved over the last two versions that we saw,” now-Mayor Madsen said. “It has more pedestrian appeal to me.”

As for the necessity of adding another roundabout to the town’s existing roster of three (one near Town Park, one near Snowmass Center and another mini-roundabout that some interpret as a regular T-shaped intersection near Base Village), proponents say there are plenty of benefits that make the project worthwhile.

For one, Martens noted, there’s aging infrastructure to consider: a culvert that directs water from Brush Creek under the roadway will need attention eventually.

Traffic calming is another feature, as the circular design requires motorists to slow down as they enter, Snowmass Police Chief Brian Olson noted.

Plus, the flow of a roundabout would help prevent the current traffic backups from cars trying to turn left from Owl Creek Road onto Brush Creek Road, according to Transportation Director David Peckler. That in turn helps keep the roads clear for the Snowmass-Wildcat Fire Protection District; the department is located about 500 feet from the intersection on Owl Creek Road.

And then, of course, there’s the fact that the intersection is one the community’s least favorite crossings in Snowmass Village.

In a 2019 community survey, 31% of respondents with an opinion on the matter said they were “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with the intersection. The only worse-ranking crossing in the survey was the mini roundabout near Base Village, with 39% giving it a thumbs down.

(That’s not to say that respondents saw roundabouts as the only solution. Though nearly 90% of respondents with an opinion considered the infrastructure an acceptable traffic calming measure, the open-ended comments section of the survey included more than half a dozen statements from staunch roundabout opponents, too.)

For or against the roundabout, Snowmass Village residents and visitors won’t see any changes to the roadway for at least a few years.

Although council is warming to the idea, the design is only around 30% of the way to completion, and there are other larger projects already in the works like the Snowmass Mall transit center, according to Martens.

“We don’t have those, kind of, pencils until 2025,” Martens said. “It’s a ways off.”