More than one year out from the anticipated start of the Maroon/Castle Creek Roundabout construction, it’s not too early to start planning for impacts of the rebuild to Aspen’s main artery.
At 18 years old, the traffic circle is showing its age, having not seen any major upgrades since its 2003 opening. That will change next year when concrete is poured on a $2.53 million roundabout project driven by multiple entities, including the Colorado Department of Transportation, city of Aspen and Pitkin County. The entirety of the project’s funding package is still being finalized.
The construction project, to include work on Highway 82 from the Maroon Creek Bridge to Sardy Field, would span from April to October 2022, with concentration on the roundabout project from June through October, said Andrew Knapp, the resident engineer who is representing CDOT.
The roundabout rebuild will be performed in concert with surface treatment work of the highway from the Maroon Creek Bridge to the airport that is projected to cost another $2.8 million and which is covered in CDOT’s budget.
“The roundabout is anticipated to cost approximately $2.5 million, which is not covered by CDOT’s budget,” Knapp said.
Pitkin County, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and the city of Aspen have been asked to contribute to the roundabout rebuild — to the tune of $100,000, $300,000 and $980,000, respectively — and an intergovernmental agreement is in the works. A request to the Elected Officials Transportation Committee (EOTC) of $271,000 is pending approval.
Dan Blankenship, CEO of RFTA, said Friday that their $300,000 contribution accounts for approximately 12% of the estimated $2.5 million project.
RFTA buses will operate on Highway 82 during the 2022 projects and not use the detour.
Keeping things moving
A single lane of traffic will continue through the roundabout during reconstruction, Knapp said Friday.
The Grand Avenue Bridge project in Glenwood Springs wrought nearly three months of gridlock in 2017, something that Mayor Jonathan Godes called “life changing” during the Feb. 11 RFTA board of directors monthly meeting, when $50,000 in supplemental funding to CDOT was approved.
While the scale of constructing a $125 million bridge across the interstate is more grand than a $2.5 million roundabout reconfiguration, there are parallels in traffic impacts and the dearth of alternative routes.
During the roundabout construction, Smith Way to McLain Flats and Cemetery Lane is the recommended detour for drivers of passenger vehicles and small trucks who don’t want to battle the backups that a single-lane configuration through the roundabout could bring.
“Having the recommended detour will allow the roundabout work to be done more quickly, because less traffic on CO 82 through the roundabout means more work can be done in a shorter period of time,” Knapp said.
Those neighborhoods that will see more traffic are already on notice.
“The impact to the county roads is what I’m hearing from residents,” said Brian Pettet, public works director for Pitkin County, when asked about the project on Thursday.
Pettet said adverse impacts to county roads attributed to the detour will be “recorded” and addressed by CDOT.
On Feb. 9, Pettet shared with the Pitkin County commissioners that the project included improvements that were operational, structural and that enhanced safety.
The roundabout reconstruction is anticipated to go to bid this fall.
On the city’s radar
The city of Aspen is coordinating on the project with Pitkin County, RFTA and CDOT, since the roundabout is part of the state highway, Communications Director Denise White explained.
“The roundabout was identified as a 2022 maintenance project for the city, in coordination with CDOT,” she said, adding that its focus is to replace the pavement within the roundabout with concrete.
White said the last time the roundabout was resurfaced was the summer of 2018, and within a year the surface started to show obvious deterioration. Winter emergency repairs were required for the potholes that developed.
CDOT’s Knapp, in a memo to the board of county commissioners, called that incident during the winter of 2019 a “severe pavement blowout.”
“This event was the genesis of the current concreting effort after CDOT was approached by the city of Aspen to consider reconstructing the roundabout in concrete. Since concrete has a much longer lifespan than asphalt and the city of Aspen was offering financial participation, CDOT decided to pursue the reconstruction,” Knapp stated.
The underlying philosophy behind the reconstruction project is one of short-term pain for long-term gain, officials echoed.
“By taking the time to place concrete, these scenarios of disruption are reduced substantially over time. This roundabout is an artery into and out of our community, and by resurfacing in concrete we will minimize future maintenance needs as much as possible,” White said. “The aging asphalt pavement requires a continual process of maintenance involving roadway closures on a consistent basis every few years.”
A traffic study in 2020 identified some changes in the roundabout’s geometry and its signage that will be incorporated into the plan.
Pettet explained the detour on county roads, as well as the city of Aspen-owned Cemetery Lane, to the commissioners in a memo.
“Providing an official detour would allow CDOT to reduce the impact of maintaining four lanes of traffic through the roundabout. Without a formal detour, CDOT would be required to maintain existing State Highway 82 functionality,” which would require more money for temporary pavement and additional project phasing.
Pettet reiterated in an interview Thursday that “the traveling public would likely use the alternative route anyway, given anticipated delays [on Highway 82] caused by the project.”
White noted, “Doing this work at the same time allows us to work on this site in a condensed window, rather than having to address it at different points in time and creating additional disruption to our community.”
RFTA’s Blankenship, when asked whether there would be a better time for these projects, since 2022 could herald a tourism recovery for Aspen, said, “While we all hope that the summer of 2022 will be better from an economic standpoint, there is no guarantee that CDOT will have more money to contribute in 2022.
“With a potential downturn in visitor traffic this summer and the economic downturn prompting more competitive construction costs, this may be the best time to complete the project,” he continued.