The Pitkin Board of County Commissioners and the county’s Open Space and Trails board last week gave direction and general support for a bicycle-pedestrian bridge that would provide a safe connection from the west side of Highway 82 near Aspen Village to the Rio Grande Trail on the east side of the Roaring Fork River.
During a joint work session last Tuesday, county commissioners and OST board members indicated favor with an OST staff recommendation for “Alignment No. 2,” the least expensive of four options and a route of least resistance from the Aspen Village Trail’s highway underpass over the river and to the Rio Grande Trail. Currently, the Aspen Village Trail ends at Gerbaz Way, and bicyclists and pedestrians must navigate the two-lane road and its blind spots (while being mindful of the increased number of motorists using Gerbaz Way to cross the river) to connect to the other side.
“This has been identified as a community need,” said OST Director Gary Tennenbaum in his remarks that kicked off the discussion. He suggested that the county’s OST department has about $6 million in its trails fund and that a portion of that can be used to cover the $700,000 cost of the project.
Asked about other much-needed connections to the Rio Grande Trail along the Highway 82 corridor, Tennenbaum said OST would be looking soon at proposals from the Brush Creek Park and Ride to the Aspen Airport Business Center. “That’s what we’re working on next,” he said.
Pitkin County Commissioner Steve Child asked whether the recommended alignment for the new bike bridge near Gerbaz Way would need Bureau of Land Management approval. While it wouldn’t touch BLM land, it would go over it.
Tennenbaum acknowledged that BLM approval was needed but said it’s usually a quick process.
“They have not indicated that they will not look at this, by any means,” he said, adding that he was “pretty confident” that OST can work with the BLM to get a green light.
Commissioner Patti Clapper, while suggesting that it’s her style to question expenditures of taxpayer money, said she wanted to move forward with the project.
“For the public to use this crossing to get to the Rio Grande Trail would be phenomenal, [not only for] the safety issues but to get more families out and about,” she said.
But, Commissioner Francie Jacober, who lives in the Crystal River Valley in the Prince Creek Road area, questioned whether more bike trails are needed in the valley as well as the project cost.
An abundance of trails in the Crown area has had an impact on the quality of life of nearby residents, she said. She wondered aloud whether $700,000 would be a prudent expenditure for a trail link that might see an average of 10 users a day, a figure that’s based on half of the annual use of a similar bridge near Lazy Glen.
“It seems like a lot of expense and material and grading and construction to gain a little bit more bike riding to the people who bike,” Jacober said.
She also questioned whether the new connector over the Roaring Fork River would help take more cars off the road.
“I’m not sure of the benefit of this.” Jacober said. “I do have doubts about the proliferation of bike trails in the area.”
During a public comment period, Aspen Village residents countered with arguments for the new connection.
James Spencer said residents sometimes feel isolated from areas across the river.
“Other than Gerbaz Way, we have no connection to anywhere,” the local physical therapist said.
He also said the use of Gerbaz Way to get to the Rio Grande Trail is unsafe.
“I think there is some urgency to this,” Spencer said. “It’s become even more frightening [to use the road] because we have more work trucks than we used to.”
Gail Bartik said she helped provide information to communities on both sides of the highway about the need for the link.
“This is not about ‘additional bike trails.’ This is about a connection that gives safety and accessibility to both sides of the river,” she said.
And it wouldn’t only serve bicyclists, it would assist families who want to walk with their children from one trail to the other, she added.
OST board members also offered their thoughts about the increased safety the bridge would provide.
The lion’s share of the estimated project cost involves construction of a prefabricated, steel-truss bridge over the river.