Independence Pass re-opens after fireworks between Pitkin, Garfield counties
A Garfield County commissioner angrily denounced Pitkin County and state transportation officials Friday as “disrespectful, arrogant, gutless and selfish” for closing Independence Pass earlier this week.
“You are awful neighbors,” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said during a conference call Friday morning. “You’re turning your back on us during an emergency. You’re letting Pitkin County close down a major highway during a time of emergency.”
Jankovsky said Independence Pass functions as a “relief valve” for 100,000 people who live in the Roaring Fork Valley, Glenwood Springs and points west all the way to Parachute, some of who need to get to Denver for medical reasons. An open Independence Pass is a matter of health, safety, welfare and economics for those residents, he said.
“It’s absolutely crazy what you guys are saying,” Jankovsky said. “I just can’t believe what I’m hearing. I am appalled.”
Just because Pitkin County can’t manage traffic is no reason to cut off everyone else’s access during a time of emergency like the Grizzly Creek Fire, he said. The fire doubled in size Thursday night from 6,200 acres to more than 14,600 acres and has closed Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon since earlier this week.
“You are completely isolating this community,” Jankovsky said. “Pitkin County are awful neighbors to Garfield County. I’m angry. I’m really angry.”
The Pass reopened about 5:30 p.m. Friday to limited traffic.
Pitkin County Public Works Director Brian Pettet said the closure was about public safety, and was not a matter of Pitkin County law enforcement and officials being inconvenienced by the traffic volume.
But Jankovsky wasn’t having it. He said he thought the issue was about the city of Aspen and Pitkin County “not being able to manage the traffic.”
“Quite frankly, that’s not the case,” said Alex Burchetta, director of operations at the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office. “I realize you don’t believe the narrative.”
DiSalvo repeatedly asked Jankovsky to tone down his rhetoric and later said he was offended by the suggestion of “elitist” motives on the part of Pitkin County wanting to close the Pass.
“You can attack the decision all you want … but we are all in the same boat,” DiSalvo said. “I’m sorry to have to add a few hours to your trip.”
Further, DiSalvo said it was a “low blow” for Jankovsky to tip a newspaper reporter to the Friday morning conference call so he could air his grievances in public.
“Low blow?” Jankovksy countered. “You guys have the low blow. You guys closed the road.”
DiSalvo said the I-70 closure funneled 8,000 to 9,000 more cars on to the Independence Pass road, which usually only handles about 3,000 cars per day. That action gridlocked Aspen and the Pass and would have spelled disaster if an emergency happened up the Pass, or if Aspen or any surrounding communities would have had to be evacuated.
“Imagine a parking lot from Aspen to Basalt,” DiSalvo said. “It doesn’t seem tenable to me.”
Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario, who also was Friday morning’s call, said he supported opening Independence Pass and managing the traffic flow because it would “flatten the curve” in terms of traffic congestion.
Later, DiSalvo said Jankovsky was out of line.
“He did insult our entire community,” DiSalvo said. “Clearly he doesn’t know the foundation of this community is not a bunch of elitists. The foundation of this community is working people trying to make a living.”
Pitkin County Commissioner George Newman, who was not on the conference call, also later took issue with Jankovsky’s comments.
“It’s unfortunate that Commissioner Jankovsky did not have the courtesy to call us (and DiSalvo) to get a better understanding of the situation,” Newman said in an email to The Aspen Times. “We do not take this closure lightly as it impacts the health, safety and welfare of our residents as well.”
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