Narrow transportation

Transport problems in the upper valley are unlikely to improve in 2022


Drivers navigate the roundabout outside Aspen on Saturday, January 1, 2022 (Kelsey Brunner / The Aspen Times)

Anyone who thought last summer’s horrific rush hour traffic jam entering and exiting Aspen was the worst, but they better recalibrate their frustration meter because next summer will be almost assured to be worse.

The impending repaving of Highway 82 and the reconstruction of the roundabout in the spring and fall will likely exacerbate a traffic problem that has only worsened in the pandemic era as the use of public buses has decreased considerably. At the same time, the more frequent occurrence of natural disasters has channeled the hordes of Interstate 70, led by GPS-worshiping tractor-trailer drivers who, like lemmings towards the cliff, blindly traverse town and head for towards the impending Independence Pass disaster, where vehicles over 35 feet are prohibited.

The problem is compounded by locally elected officials, who have mostly ignored congestion issues at the entrance to Aspen S-curves in recent years, as West End neighbors ranted against the daily invasion of drivers. of shortcut and valley commuters simmering in a cloud of Main Carbon Monoxide on the street which has likely offset countless local green initiatives.



Finally, there is the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport.

A plan that took the Federal Aviation Administration three years to approve in July 2018, which included building a new terminal up to 140,000 square feet and moving the runway 80 feet west while l ‘widening by 50 feet, is currently not applicable. That’s because a citizen-led advisory group shot it down in favor of leaving the trail where it is and rebuilding everything else around it. Pitkin County Commissioners approved this plan in October 2020.



The move essentially revived the hugely expensive, decades-long process of revamping the airfield and replacing the terminal – currently a hodge-podge installation that a local pol once likened to a “Mr. Potato Head Doll” – to exactly the same. The starting point.

So, while we can still hope, the bottom line when it comes to the transportation problems in the Upper Roaring Fork Valley is that they are unlikely to improve in 2022.

Reconstruction of the roundabout

A biker crosses Maroon Creek Road as cars wait in traffic at the Aspen Roundabout on Thursday, July 29, 2021 (Kelsey Brunner / The Aspen Times)

The biggest issue commuters, tourists, and locals will face in 2022 is the multi-million dollar repaving of Highway 82 between the airport business center and the Maroon Creek Bridge, and most notably , the major reconstruction of the roundabout to the west of the city. .

The $ 4 million to $ 5 million project is slated to start in April and run through summer and through fall, with most delays likely to occur during the peak summer season between June and October, according to officials of the Colorado Department of Transportation.

However, Route 82 will not close during the project. CDOT has set up a so-called voluntary detour courtesy of Pitkin County Commissioners where most passenger cars and light trucks bound for Aspen will be advised to use Smith Hill Way via Woody Creek to McLain Flats Road to Cemetery Lane and back to Highway 82.

Buses, large trucks, and those needing to access Maroon Creek, Castle Creek and other roads from the portion of the highway being repaved will use Highway 82 and likely experience delays.

The CDOT teams plan to pave the road at night to reduce traffic problems. Most of the delays are expected to be due to the roundabout, where crews will replace pothole-prone asphalt with much more durable concrete. The CDOT is currently required to patch winter-caused potholes at the roundabout every two to three years, while the concrete is expected to last 20 to 30 years.

The reconstruction of the roundabout alone is expected to cost around $ 2.6 million, which will be paid for with nearly $ 1 million from the town of Aspen and another $ 670,000 from the Pitkin County committee of transportation of elected officials and the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority. CDOT will pay the rest.

Independence Pass

After massive mudslides in late July caused by heavy rain in the Grizzly Creek burn scar closed Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon, the volume of traffic in the Roaring Fork Valley skyrocketed.

Much of the interstate traffic looked at Google Maps and headed for the Independence Pass, a two-lane highway designed to accommodate around 3,000 cars a day that ended up being three times as many on some days. Cars broke down, drivers froze in narrow sections, and oversized semi-trailers, RVs and trucks with trailers blocked the road or got stuck.

Closures of Glenwood Canyon continued through the summer, depending on rainstorms, and even when the CDOT, Colorado State Patrol, and local law enforcement put in place measures to try to control it. storming the Independence Pass, traffic sometimes slowed down further via Aspen and down the valley.

A Colorado Department of Transportation employee and Pitkin County Sheriff’s Deputy speak with truck drivers Friday morning at the Independence Pass gate east of Aspen. Semi-trailers and vehicles over 35 feet are not permitted on Route 82 over the pass. These three truckers had to turn around and were not fined. (David Krause / The Aspen Times)

The main problem is that vehicles over 35 feet are not allowed on the narrow road to the Independence Pass over 12,095 feet. And despite numerous road signs warning of the requirement from Glenwood Springs to the winter closing gate east of Aspen, as well as an equal amount on the Twin Lakes side, tractor-trailer drivers, Drivers of recreational vehicles and vacationers towing toys have consistently ignored the law and tempted the drive.

The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office began mailing MPs to the winter closing gate when the freeway closed to try to alleviate the problem. CDOT also installed temporary traffic lights on the two Narrows sections on the Aspen side of the pass, which appeared to alleviate some of the issues.

Entrance to Aspen

A more thorny transport problem in Aspen does not exist.

This is the infamous two-lane S-curve bottleneck at the western end of town that stops traffic twice a day for most months of the year. A plan to fix the problem has been on the books for 23 years, but has never been implemented.

That’s because it’s complicated, treacherous local political minefields have to be navigated through, and it will take time, hard work and community consensus to resolve it. It also pushes thousands of residents, bus drivers, commuters, local workers, and tourists to the brink of patience and beyond on a daily basis.

A car uses Power Plant Rd. To avoid afternoon traffic on Highway 82 leaving Aspen on Thursday, November 4, 2021 (Kelsey Brunner / The Aspen Times)

Aspen Times reporter Carolyn Sackariason described the complicated story of Aspen’s entry and ways it could be resolved in a recent article.

This story, however, provides the only positive note on the transportation issues Aspen has seen in some time: The elected leaders are once again talking about Aspen entry rather than ignoring it.

The last time there was momentum to address the issue was in early 2017, when local officials from Aspen, Pitkin County and the Town of Snowmass Village on the Transportation Committee of Elected officials heard the results of a nearly $ 500,000 study involving the use of buses versus light rail through Marolt’s open space for entry.

Then-Aspen mayor Steve Skadron dismissed further discussion of the matter after just over an hour, declaring Marolt banned.

“There is no political will to prioritize the development of the Marolt Open Space,” he said in June 2017. “He’s a non-starter with Aspen City Council. “

And just like that, hardly any elected officials have yet spoken publicly about Aspen’s entry until Aspen City Council – pushed by City Councilor Rachel Richards – took it over in September.

Richards, in fact, first raised the issue at another EOTC meeting in July.

“All the other steps we are talking about today are necessary, but they are all incremental and small until we deal with the elephant in the room and the hallway,” she told the time. “It’s not going to go away and it bothers our residents on a daily basis, whether they’re trying to get into town or out of town.

“I realize this is a complicated question, but I think, for my time at the table, the EOTC should revisit the issue and bring it back.

The EOTC hired an administrator shortly after the 2017 meeting to ease the transport issues in the upper valley, although nothing about entering Aspen was on the agenda for the ‘EOTC since arriving on board.

Residents of Aspen’s West End have formed a group this summer to combat the ever-growing number of construction trucks and trailers and other commuters that pass through the neighborhood during afternoon rush hours to avoid to sit in the congested main street traffic.

Aspen-Pitkin County Airport

The “Welcome Bear” at Aspen / Pitkin County Airport is masked to remind visitors of the mask’s mandate in Pitkin County.
David Krause / The Aspen Times

Since Pitkin County commissioners voted 4-1 in October 2020 to approve a different plan than the one that took the FAA three years to improve, not much has happened.

This is likely due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, although county officials were unsure how the FAA would react to the rejection of the previous plan, which was expensive and largely paid for by the FAA.

A negative reaction from the FAA could prompt the commissioners to reconsider their support for the plan approved by the community advisory committee.

Essentially all of this means that a new Aspen airport remains far into the future.

[email protected]