Pitkin County commissioners on Tuesday expressed concerns about the environmental impact, cost and necessity of a proposed $6.2 million project that would connect the unpaved portion of the Rio Grande Trail and the Airport Business Center with a new bridge.
In addition to the bridge, the project includes a new 2-mile dual surface on the Rio Grande of compressed gravel and pavement between where the trail crosses McLain Flats Road and just before the Shale Bluffs canyon.
It is one of several options that the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails board is considering in an effort to deal with the only 4 miles of unpaved section along the 42-mile Rio Grande Trail. The unpaved section stretches from Woody Creek to Stein Park in Aspen.
Another option that would pave the entire stretch with a similar dual surface costs about $6.1 million, of which about $1.3 million would be spent on installing guard rails for safety.
In a joint work session with the open space and trails board, commissioner Rachel Richards suggested that other less costly options be considered which could be upgraded over a few years, while commissioner Rob Ittner wanted to know how much of the project’s funding would come out of the county’s coffers.
Currently, the plan is for the project to be partially funded by open space grants from Great Outdoors Colorado, said the county program’s director, Dale Will.
In order to qualify for the grants, open space would need to begin preliminary engineering work as soon as possible and a decision would need to be made early next year, Will said. If that doesn’t happen, the county’s open space program would have to pay for most of the construction, he said.
Ittner also suggested that staff do further public outreach to all of the different interest groups who use the trail to get more direction on the project.
Commissioner Jack Hatfield argued that paving the trail and building a bridge would encourage more use of it and in turn increase congestion, he said.
The bridge would give more exposure at the ABC to the gorge, which could ultimately have dire environmental effects on it, Hatfield said.
“We must be careful with what we do here,” Hatfield said. “Because we can ruin what we value.”
The county’s open space and trails board will continue discussions on the project in the new year and it plans to bring a recommendation before the commissioners on Jan. 24.