Pitkin County will launch $3.4 million in capital improvements at the Airport Business Center in coming weeks, as part of $6.9 million in road and bridge spending this year.
County manager Jon Peacock touted the plan on Friday at the Aspen Business Luncheon, in an afternoon presentation outlining county tax revenue and spending.
“We’re taking advantage of construction costs that are lower than what they had been,” Peacock explained to the small crowd at the Sky Hotel.
Since Peacock took over as county manager in 2011, the government has ramped up spending on capital improvements and road projects. Voters have repeatedly rejected ballot initiatives to raise local property taxes for road maintenance, leaving such projects neglected. The county spent $400,000 on roads in 2010, though county staff says they need an average of $2.5 million in work annually.
Using capital reserves, the county began aggressively investing in roads last year with $4.8 million. That included prominent re-paving projects on Castle Creek Road and Sopris Creek Road.
The overhaul at the ABC includes adding sidewalks throughout the property and on Baltic Avenue, along with gutters to assuage flooding problems, a retention pond near the Stein Trail, and a re-routing of that trail. The project also includes an underpass from the ABC to a bus stop across Highway 82 at the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport, which Peacock referred to as “an expensive hole.”
Peacock also highlighted an initiative to improve cellular and broadband service throughout unincorporated Pitkin County.
“The goal is ubiquitous cell and broadband technology,” Peacock said.
Using funds from the county’s translator property tax, which voters approved for usage on broadband service in 2011, the project aims to bring cell phone service to the Maroon Bells this summer. They’re starting with the Bells because better cell phone service there would improve people’s ability to contact first responders during public safety emergencies.
Peacock said the county will be able to add cell service to the parking lot and area around Maroon Lake, but not the entire length of Maroon Creek Road because today’s technology can’t do the job. The next area on their wireless wish list is Highway 133, followed by Independence Pass.
During the portion of Peacock’s presentation on the county airport, audience members asked about whether the airfield or local rules could be changed to bring bigger planes and flights from cross-country destinations like New York City.
Peacock explained the historic sensitivity in the Aspen community to expanding the airport, which he learned about on his first visit to town after accepting the county manager position in late 2010. At that time, airport manager Jim Elwood called Peacock and warned him of the contentious debate — then about to begin — about redeveloping the airport.
“The first thing I want to say to you is ‘I’m sorry,’” Peacock remembered Elwood telling him, “because we’re about to start an airport master plan.”
The ensuing public process included 84 public meetings over two years focused only on the planned layout of the redeveloped airport. Peacock is now readying for the next phase of public airport debate, which will focus on the design of the facility.