Basalt’s $11.7 million Midland Avenue project gets green light

Project will improve appearance, pedestrian access and utilities

A couple walks across Midland Avenue in downtown Basalt on Tuesday, March 8, 2022. The town council approved an $11.7 million project to improve the infrastructure and aesthetics of the town’s main street through the downtown commercial core. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Basalt launched an $11.7 million, three-year initiative Tuesday night that will be one of the biggest projects ever undertaken by the town government.

The Town Council voted 6-0 to approve two contracts related to replacing utilities and improving the aesthetics of Midland Avenue, the town’s main street.

Connect One Design and partner engineering firms were hired for $823,576 to design the Midland Avenue Streetscape Project. Stutsman-Gerbaz Inc. was hired as the construction manager and general contractor for $150,000.

Connect One Design’s contract includes public outreach. Mayor Bill Kane said the town and its consultants will have to work hard to “win the hearts and minds” of business operators and residents because of the disruption involved.

“We’re going to tear the place up pretty substantially,” Kane said.

The town received citizen buy-in, but that was before any asphalt gets ripped up and trenches dug on the main street in the business core.

“That’s going to be a big project. That’s going to be a disruptive project,” Town Manager Ryan Mahoney said in an interview prior to the meeting.

Town officials believe it will be well worth it. Residents who attended an open house last fall identified the Midland venture as one of the most important projects the town could undertake. Last fall, town voters approved the extension of an existing property tax to allow issuance of bonds for the Midland project as well as affordable housing projects and environmentally friendly initiatives as part of a program called Basalt Forward 2030.

This year will be the planning phase. In summer 2023, the water and sewer lines buried beneath the street will be replaced and the storm water system updated.

“We’re going to tear the place up pretty substantially.” — Mayor Bill Kane

In summer 2024, sidewalks will be widened, pedestrian safety amenities added, bicycle parking created and landscaping enhanced.

“You will see parts of it that will look drastically different,” Mahoney said.

Replacing the aging infrastructure will be a vital but less sexy step.

“It’s somewhere between 60 and 80 years old,” Mahoney said of the water and sewer lines. “It’s time.”

The project will stretch from the intersection with Homestead Drive on the east to the four-way stop with Two Rivers Road. It will include Midland Spur, in front of Town Hall.

In a memo to the council, town engineer Catherine Christoff wrote, “The project seeks to maximize pedestrian space, improve public spaces and provide vibrancy in the Town. The Master Plan identifies certain characteristics which have held Midland Avenue back from becoming a truly pedestrian-oriented Main Street, including center-lane truck loading zones, inconsistent connectivity, parking disorientation, lack of accessibility, and aging and narrow sidewalks. A renewed streetscape design and construction project would tie these pieces together.”

Traffic will continue to flow on Midland Avenue during summers 2023 and 2024, but the work will require lane closures and, probably, alternating traffic, Mahoney said. The town is considering stopping work during July next summer, the town’s busiest month.

Mahoney said the plan is to maintain all or most of the parking spaces on Midland Avenue. Center lane truck loading will be designated in specific areas rather than the length of the street, he said.

Basalt has already received a $1 million grant from the federal American Recovery Plan and allocated it to the Midland project. The town applied for another $1 million grant through Colorado Department of Transportation’s Revitalizing Main Streets program. In addition, the town is allocated $465,000 from revenues above what was expected from building permits last year. That leaves $9 million to fund through bonding.

Councilman Bill Infante asked how town taxpayers would be protected against cost overruns. Phil Vaughn, a consultant who represents the town on construction planning and implementation, acknowledged the market has a lot of volatility right now because of material supply issues and inflation. A key to keeping to the budget will be having Stutsman-Gerbaz working with the design team and constantly monitoring costs of the plans.

The project will be designed to the budget rather than re-evaluating late in the game how to react to cost overruns, Vaughn said. The town will also pursue maximum cost contracts with firms bidding on the work.

The Midland Avenue Streetscape Project was approved by Kane and council members Infante, David Knight, Ryan Slack, Gary Tennenbaum and Glenn Drummond. Councilwoman Elyse Hottel recused herself because she works for Connect One Design.

In a separate project, the town will complete installation of amenities at the Basalt River Park along the Roaring Fork River near downtown this summer.

“Downtown is going through a metamorphosis,” Mahoney said.

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