roundabout

Cars make their way through the Aspen roundabout on Tuesday. The Aspen City Council and Pitkin Board of County Commissioners held a joint work session on Tuesday, with part of the meeting devoted to a discussion of the Castle Creek Bridge and Highway 82 traffic. 

In a joint work session on Tuesday, members of the Aspen City Council and the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners dove into a discussion on the Castle Creek Bridge and transportation on Highway 82. 

Following a presentation to the commissioners from city staff on Jan. 10, Tuesday’s meeting served as an opportunity for both boards to have an open dialogue and for commissioners to ask additional questions about the city’s planning. City staff did not present new information on Tuesday. The elected officials used their time to discuss ideas and suggestions on how to move forward with the city’s plan to reconfigure the entrance to Aspen.

The plan has been labeled as the “preferred alternative.” It was chosen from 43 options to improve transit on Highway 82, and it is part of the city’s 1998 Record of Decision. It includes a new bridge over Castle Creek and maintains the current bridge as a secondary option for entering and leaving town. It includes a land bridge over a reconfigured Highway 82 that would allow wildlife to safely cross the roadway. 

Commissioner Patti Clapper kicked off the discussion by bringing up three main concerns she’s heard from community members: that there seem to only be two options for repairing or replacing the Castle Creek Bridge, the emergency evacuation routes and the wildlife crossing. She added that the city council and the BOCC should be aware of community concerns that public opinions are not being heard.

“We hear a lot — we’ve heard it a lot with the airport, we’re going to hear it a lot with our growth management — that we have already decided where we want to go and we’re just telling [the public] with the guise of, ‘we’re asking your opinion,’” she said. “We need to acknowledge it, and I think we need to take it into consideration before we jump on a solution without thoroughly vetting that times have changed.” 

Clapper suggested that the city and county hold future joint meetings and bring in experts on emergency evacuation routes and wildlife to discuss what the preferred alternative would actually look like. She said she did not know whether wildlife would actually use a land bridge in that area if it were constructed and that she would like to know more. 

Members around the table also acknowledged that it has been about two decades since there was a community discussion about the Record of Decision and the preferred alternative. Councilman Ward Hauenstein said he would like to see more community re-education about the Castle Creek Bridge and the project timeline. 

The current bridge was built 62 years ago and designed for a 75-year lifespan, but was not designed to support the weight it has handled over the years. The bridge was last inspected by the Colorado Department of Transportation in 2020 and was rated safe to use, although it is nearing the end of its useful life and will need to be replaced. 

Councilwoman Rachel Richards acknowledged that the bridge is a crucial piece of infrastructure not only for Aspen and Pitkin County residents, but for users up and down the Roaring Fork Valley, especially when it comes to being prepared for natural disasters.

“If, as a community, we don’t deal with that bridge, it’s all of our economic future,” she said. “I would hope that that bridge lasts another 15 years until all of us have made up our minds and something new is built and so on and so forth, but I don’t have the faith that that’s going to happen.”

BOCC Chair Francie Jacober said she would like to hold another joint meeting as soon as possible to discuss an evacuation plan and a deeper understanding of the state of the current bridge. Members of both boards said they would like to hear from the county’s emergency manager at their next meeting.