New guardrails could be installed this fall on dangerous sections of Castle Creek Road after the Pitkin County commissioners on Tuesday directed staff to work with the nonprofit of a part-time Aspen billionaire who is paying for the effort.
The project has been winnowed from an originally proposed 12,600 feet of guardrails to 2,100 feet, said Tom Newland, a representative of Citizens for Castle Creek (CCC), which was formed by Bill Koch.
Koch, who has a mansion in the valley near Ashcroft, first floated the idea to the county in 2011. CCC’s website says the guardrails will help prevent serious accidents and “make the road safer for all users, including our children of driving age.”
Multiple stretches of the protective rail will be installed from the Marolt Ranch housing complex near the roundabout to the intersection of Little Annie and Castle Creek roads, the commissioners were told. The project is expected to cost about $100,000.
The targeted areas are those with “precipitous drops” and where drivers have gone off the roadside, said public works director Brian Pettet.
Newland said the areas have no shoulder and drops of 50 feet or more. Those conditions helped narrow the proposal to its current configuration, he said.
The county commissioners, since the guardrails were proposed, have expressed concern about impacting the scenery and changing the character of the rural road.
On Tuesday, Commissioner Rachel Richards added another concern. A trust fund or escrow account should be established to offset the cost of long-term maintenance.
“It’s a lot of upkeep, and those [guardrails] can look pretty ugly,” she said, citing the occasional state of the road features on Independence Pass.
Newland said CCC will try to get 15 to 20 percent in extra guardrail and store it until it’s needed.
A few Castle Creek Valley residents attended the work session. One man said the project should avoid spots where wild game cross the road and said he also worried that the new features could be a hazard for cyclists and snowplow drivers.
Joe Wells, another resident, said he was encouraged that the project focused on areas with real problems. The guardrails should be placed as far out of the right of way as possible for bicyclists and “other critters,” he said.
Castle Creek Road may be the valley’s most popular for cycling, and giving “them as much room as possible would be great,” Wells said.
John Wilcox of Ashcroft Ski Touring applauded the effort, saying that “anything we can do to make the road a little safer ... is great.” He said he has ran off the road once in 26 years, in a spot that will remain without a guardrail even after Koch’s project is complete.
“There will still be accidents” because conditions can change so suddenly, he said, but added that his customers will appreciate the increased safety.
Because CCC is paying for the project, the county will expect the nonprofit to also fund the bidding process, Pettet said.
Newland said bids could go out in June or July, with the project beginning sometime in the fall. Pettet said the county will then issue a right-of-way work permit.
Pettet added that installation would avoid holidays — the county will manage traffic control and other details — and said the planned single-lane closures would be minimal.