Pitkin County has concerns about bridge project safety
Pitkin County officials expressed public safety concerns Tuesday about the city of Aspen’s upcoming Castle Creek Bridge project.
“If we have to evacuate everything east of the bridge … we need to have a plan on how to get out of here,” Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper said. “This is not a [wildfire] season to be messed with.”
The city’s $4.65 million project to widen the sidewalk on the north side of the bridge and improve the road and bus shelters and crosswalks in the area to make it safer for pedestrians and bikers is set to begin Monday. It will continue until June 11, when work will stop for the peak summer season and resume again Aug. 13.
With the lower-than-average snowpack this year, wildfire concerns are becoming more serious and the city should have a mass evacuation plan in case a fire threatens town, Clapper said during a commissioner work session Tuesday.
“We could have a wildfire on Monday,” she said. “It’s a significant concern for Pitkin County’s emergency management and for public safety.”
Peter Rice, a senior project manager with the city, said that while a mass evacuation plan has not come up in meetings about the bridge project, it would take only about 20 minutes to configure the bridge back to two lanes of traffic in the event such a situation. Power Plant Road also could be utilized in that situation, he said.
In fact, the Castle Creek Bridge will be reconfigured in such a manner each evening during the project so that both directions are open when work is not being done, said Rice, who also gave an update to the Aspen City Council during a work session Tuesday.
Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo, who attended Tuesday’s commissioner meeting but did not speak, said afterward that he agreed with Clapper.
“There needs to be a fully vetted, written evacuation plan on this and I haven’t seen one,” he said.
DiSalvo also said he hadn’t officially heard details on how emergency vehicles — including police and sheriff’s cruisers, ambulances and fire trucks — will be allowed across the bridge.
“I guess it’s still in process,” the sheriff said outside Tuesday’s meeting.
Bryanna Starbuck, a consultant the city hired to handle public information for the bridge project, was standing nearby and said that plan had been finalized. The project’s lead foreman, all flaggers and Rice will have radios and will be contacted by emergency dispatchers when, for example, an ambulance is on the way, she said.
When the emergency vehicle arrives at the bridge, traffic will be stopped on both sides and it will be allowed through, Starbuck said, adding that she’d been working closely with an Aspen Police Department sergeant on the plan.
DiSalvo suggested she “go out further” and include the sheriff’s office, Aspen Ambulance District and the Snowmass Fire District in the plans — all of which don’t know about it, he said.
Clapper also lightly chastised Rice and other city officials who appeared at Tuesday’s commissioner meeting for waiting until the project was six days from beginning to include the county in the plans. After the meeting she said the county has a responsibility to its residents to see that the project goes smoothly and is well-managed.
“The project is gearing up on Monday and these issues haven’t been adequately addressed,” Clapper said. “If we have an issue Monday, will we be adequately prepared? I’m not sure we will be.”
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