I CAN SAVE ASPEN $494,000 RIGHT NOW
by Todd Hartley
When putting my stupidity to words each week, I usually try to avoid talking about local subjects, lest I hurt people’s feelings. Sadly, however, this week I feel compelled to stay local, and it might end up hurting the feelings of some friends of mine. But something really stupid just happened in Aspen, and I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t note it.
I’ll explain the situation as if I were spelling it out for someone who’s never been here: There are essentially two roads connecting Aspen to the outside world. The first is Power Plant Road, a tortuous trek through the small canyon of Castle Creek that is accessed via a stop-and-go, one-block-at-a-time zigzag through Aspen’s tony West End. The other is Colorado Highway 82, a thoroughfare that, from Glenwood Springs to Aspen, is very busy and boasts the world’s dumbest HOV lane.
Most of Highway 82 has four lanes, and traffic moves along just fine, but as drivers headed for Aspen pass the airport and approach Buttermilk Ski Area, two of the lanes become bus-only lanes, and a bottleneck occurs, causing a traffic backup that can take a half-hour to get through.
From there, the slow-moving, two-lane road to Aspen goes through a roundabout, merges with the bus lane and crosses the canyon of Castle Creek on a rickety old bridge before taking a right and a left and becoming Aspen’s four-lane Main Street. For those leaving Aspen, the traffic bottleneck occurs a few blocks from the center of town, where Main Street goes from four lanes to two. That one can also take a half-hour or so.
Everyone agrees that the current configuration – funneling a busy highway down to two lanes to cross a narrow bridge built back in 1961 – is not the answer. And everyone has felt this way since at least 1976.
How do I know this? Because, according to Aspen Assistant City Manager Randy Ready, in the last 40 years, there have been 27 votes on issues regarding the entrance to Aspen. And do you know what has changed in those 40 years, following those 27 votes?
Nothing. Not a thing. Zip. Zilch. Zero. It’s the same two-lane crawl across a narrow bridge that it was back in 1961 or else Power Plant Road.
Now, I don’t know what it costs to put questions on ballots and get people to vote on them, or how much each side has paid to campaign for or against those questions, but when it happens 27 times, I imagine the numbers start to add up. When one also considers the studies, planning and other stuff done to gather information in support of those 27 votes, the associated costs have to be in the tens of millions of dollars, at least.
Viewed from an outside perspective, spending tens of millions of dollars to talk about and think about doing something and then never, ever doing anything might seem like a waste of money. So what is Aspen doing about it? Spending $494,000 to commission yet another study on the entrance to Aspen, which a majority of Aspen, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County officials just voted to do.
This time, the study will focus on the use of buses versus light rail, and do you know what the study will find? The study will find that if you built a new, four-lane bridge across Castle Creek, connecting Main Street directly to the rest of Highway 82 and making the highway four lanes from Glenwood Springs all the way to Aspen, it would ease the traffic problem considerably. The study will also find that light rail could help with the traffic problem, but light rail has no chance of ever happening.
How do I know that’s what the study will find? Because that’s what every study about the entrance to Aspen finds. That was the answer back in 1976, and it’s the answer now.
So here’s where the feelings of my friends who voted in favor of spending the $494,000 come in: Why the hell would anyone vote to spend half a million dollars to learn something we’ve known for 40 years? That’s idiotic. Surely there could be a better use for that money.
Another study is pointless, my friends, but if you’re going to waste all that money, let it not be in vain. Be the local officials who finally stop talking about the issue, vote to do something and fix the stinking problem.
Todd Hartley suggests donating the money instead to the “I’m With Stupid” fund for underpaid writers.