Aspen City manager to commuters: Get used to traffic or get on bus

Roundabout construction at entrance to town will last through June and is causing significant delays

Crews began tearing up to rebuild the roundabout outside of Aspen on Monday, April 25, 2022. The contractors must finish the project by the end of June and will pause construction during the month for Food and Wine and Aspen Ideas Fest.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

With a few days in on the tearing up of the roundabout at the Entrance to Aspen, city officials are hearing from their constituents on how bad traffic is becoming on Highway 82, as well as the alternate route of McLain Flats and Cemetery Lane.

“We’re not to the worst of it,” City Manager Sara Ott told Aspen City Council on Tuesday after Mayor Torre inquired on the status of project.

Ott said construction crews are still in demolition mode, and traffic will continue to get worse as the asphalt is torn up and replaced with concrete.

The project is expected to continue through late June.

The Colorado Department of Transportation’s subcontractors this week have set up traffic control flaggers in the eastbound lanes of Highway 82 where it meets Smith Hill Way during peak morning travel hours. Posted speed limits are 40 mph between 6 and 9 a.m. Monday through Friday in that area to help facilitate traffic turning onto Smith Hill Way to utilize the detour onto McLain Flats.

“I just want to be realistic with the community that this is the way it’s going to be to get that concrete roundabout, and there’s not really much more relief to do other than getting on the bus,” Ott said. “The bus is your best route through the roundabout construction.

“Single-occupancy vehicles will continue to be a last priority in the traffic management plan.”

Crews have updated traffic signal controls between the Aspen Business Center and Truscott at night and signals are in flash mode or turned off entirely with flaggers posted to direct traffic at the intersections.

Drivers who pass through the area should plan on an additional 15 to 30 minutes in travel time, according to CDOT.

Passenger cars and trucks will be able to either take the detour from Smith Hill Way to McLain Flats to Cemetery Lane and back to Highway 82, or they can stay on Highway 82 all the way into Aspen. Buses, freight and commercial vehicles will be required to remain on Highway 82 and are prohibited on McLain Flats Road.

Torre said he’s received two comments from residents who live on Cemetery Lane expressing concern of increased traffic in their neighborhood.

“There have been backups and there will be backups on Cemetery Lane for individuals wishing to make a left turn into town,” Ott responded. “That will continue to occur throughout this process, and it will get worse before it gets better on Cemetery Lane, as well.”

Councilwoman Rachel Richards said the road conditions west of the roundabout are deplorable, and she hopes CDOT plans to repave Highway 82.

“That highway is falling apart … but this is what real towns deal with and real life deals with and we all like to think we are in Aspen and we can keep everything paradise and perfect and do all of this work overnight or something,” she said. “But it really just doesn’t happen that way, and we’re a real town; we’re going to have real traffic issues, and we’re going to have real construction delays when they’re fixing our roads, and that’s what’s happening.”

After the roundabout is completed, CDOT crews will repave Highway 82 between the ABC and the Maroon Creek Bridge from July to September. Most of that activity will take place at night to cut down on traffic delays.

After Labor Day, CDOT plans to work on the Castle Creek Bridge for four to five weeks, causing further traffic delays in and out of Aspen.

The roundabout is being replaced with concrete, which is far more durable than asphalt and less prone to potholes that appear at the roundabout each winter and must be continually repaired. Asphalt typically lasts two to three years, while concrete is said to hold up at least 20 years.

The nearly $2.6 million reconstruction is being paid for by CDOT, the city of Aspen, Pitkin County, RFTA and the Elected Officials Transportation Committee.

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