The Colorado Department of Transportation doesn’t believe the Aspen roundabout functions properly and as a result, changes could be coming by the state agency that oversees Highway 82.
Which specific changes is a question that members of Aspen City Council have as they were asked Monday if they supported a $100,000 consultant study on traffic patterns in advance of CDOT’s work in 2022.
Part of that work will be a city-CDOT partnership to replace the asphalt with concrete, because the roundabout, which sees thousands of cars daily, is prone to potholes each year.
Council members were skeptical of the cost of the study without understanding its scope, as well as not having detailed information from CDOT on potential changes.
While that information will be given to council prior to it considering a contract with Kimley-Horn, a planning and design consulting firm with an office in Snowmass, City Manager Sara Ott said the study is key to the municipality working with a state agency.
“What typically happens if you want to advance the project, you have to take the risk with baseline data and assembling that, quite frankly, for your negotiations with CDOT on what improvements they will make along the state highway,” she told council during a work session Monday.
Ott added that without getting unified data on traffic flows on the busy adjoining Castle Creek and Maroon Creek roads, funding from CDOT for the roundabout could be in jeopardy.
“CDOT isn’t going to be interested in a conversation without it,” she said.
Ott said she and other city staffers have been in talks with CDOT about this issue for a couple of months.
City Engineer Trish Aragon and Pete Rice, the city’s senior project manager in the engineering department, said possible changes include metering signals to help create gaps in traffic, as well as softening curb extensions, or reconfigurations within the existing roundabout.
“(CDOT) believes the roundabout is not functioning the way it could be,” Aragon said, adding state officials would want to do all of the work at once, when the concrete is poured. “CDOT is looking at the roundabout. They found out we were looking at Maroon and Castle and they said, ‘This will fit well so the work is coordinated.’”
Rice said on a scale from A to F, CDOT rates the Aspen roundabout a D.
“There are subtle changes that could be made, and they do make a difference,” he said.
He noted that CDOT is underfunded and cannot afford to do a complete study of the roundabout and its feeder connections.
City officials said they hope information from the study will lead to solutions on how to improve traffic flow during rush hour on those roads, as well as how cars interact with roundabout.
“We get a lot of complaints on Maroon and Castle Creek roads,” said Aragon on Monday prior to council’s work session. “We can’t clear out the roundabout.”
She added that the complaints have been coming in for years and run the gamut in the community — skiers, parents of school district students, commuters on Highway 82, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, Aspen Valley Hospital, the U.S. Forest Service and residents who live off those roads.
Many of the organizations and entities that are located off Maroon and Castle creeks have done their own traffic studies, but one unified one is necessary, according to Jack Danneberg, the city’s project manager in the engineering department.
“There is insufficient data counts at the roundabout because these past projects focused only on information pertaining to their site,” he wrote to council in a memo. “Obtaining holistic data on traffic congesting in the roundabout will lead to better decisions for any modifications that can be made during the 2022 concrete replacement project.”
If approved by council, the consultants would compile other entities’ existing data and coordinate with them. Then, they would present minor modifications that are aimed at making bigger impacts in traffic flow as stopgaps prior to CDOT’s changes.
Aragon noted that no major modifications would be planned that require infrastructure or changes to the alignment of Highway 82.
City Council members last month discussed their concerns and desire to fix traffic congestion on roads that feed into the roundabout. They said at the time they plan on having a larger conversation with potential fixes in early 2020.
The consultant study was at the request of a previous council to find ways to ease school and skier traffic congestion in the late afternoon on Maroon Creek Road.
It was presented to the current council as a check-in, since the request for proposals went out this summer and Kimley-Horn was one of two firms that bid.
Aragon said prior to council’s work session that motorists have noticed striping changes in the roundabout that were made by CDOT last week in an effort to improve traffic flow.
A solid yellow line now delineates two lanes, with dotted lines painted coming off it to signal motorists to move into the outside lane if they are planning to exit onto Maroon Creek or Castle Creek roads.
Aragon said drivers are hesitant to move into the outside lane for fear that those entering from the west will cut them off or hit them so they stay in the inside lane until it is time to exit.
“You kind of play this chicken game,” she said of motorists’ patterns. “CDOT believes that will improve traffic and thinks it’s safer that way.”