Just 26 more days.
That’s the length of time left for phase II of the Castle Creek Bridge/Hallam Street improvement project. On June 12, the system of commuting to and from Aspen using the S-curves on Highway 82 is supposed to revert to normal — at least until phase III cranks up on Aug. 12.
With less than a month until the second-phase completion date, officials on the project team continue to urge downvalley and midvalley commuters to use public transit to avoid the hassles of getting caught in stop-and-go traffic a few miles west of the bridge — which has been reduced to a single lane — when coming into town on weekday mornings. The delays are not solely an A.M. activity: Outbound detour routes move cars along West Smuggler Street, Power Plant Road and Cemetery Lane (instead of the S-curves) until 7 p.m. on weekdays, which often means significant slowdowns during afternoon rush hour.
The $4.65 million Castle Creek Bridge/Hallam Street project started on April 2 and is expected to end sometime in October. It includes widening the narrow sidewalk from Hallam Street at North Seventh Street all the way through the bridge, replacing a culvert on West Hallam near the east end of the bridge, improving bus stops and street crossings, regrading the road to allow for better drainage, and repaving the bridge and nearby streets with asphalt.
Bryana Starbuck, spokeswoman for the project, said Monday that a news release recommending RFTA bus transit and alternate forms of transportation such as bicycles should not be taken as a “plea” to motorists to leave their cars at home to alleviate the off-season traffic congestion.
“I wouldn’t call it a ‘plea,’ I’d call it a reminder that there are other options besides driving that may work for you,” Starbuck said. “By choosing an alternative, you might make your day better, you are likely to get into and out of town faster on the bus. And, as an added bonus, by either riding a bus or carpooling or walking or taking a bicycle, you’re taking one driver off the road, which might help someone else have a better day.”
The city of Aspen has approved two additional buses between the Brush Creek Intercept Lot and Rubey Park to help reduce wait times and accommodate additional riders during peak travel times, the release said. In town, there are four free bus and shuttle routes — Castle/Maroon, Burlingame, Cemetery Lane and Hunter Creek — connecting destinations in the city. Another option for getting around is the Downtowner shuttle, with free door-to-door service in the core, the release notes.
“The additional RFTA buses during the morning and afternoon rushes are intended to boost the incentive to park and ride instead of waiting in traffic,” said John Krueger, the city’s transportation director, in a prepared statement. “Coming into town, the bus has a dedicated lane from the airport to the roundabout, meaning you’ll likely be able to bypass much of the morning queue. The most significant time reduction for bus riders is seen in that afternoon peak. The buses have a separate lane for most of Main Street and they don’t have to take the Power Plant detour … again, missing most of those delays.”
The release points out what regular riders already know: that bus service is free from the Brush Creek Intercept Lot through Aspen. Parking at all RFTA Park and Ride locations (including the Intercept Lot and Buttermilk) also is free.
“Buses do not have to take the Power Plant detour and are given priority whenever possible. Buses have some of the shortest travel times in and out of town, especially during the morning and evening rush hours,” the release says.
Other options for traveling in and around the city include We-cycle (wecycle.org), which has 20 locations around Aspen to rent a bicycle. There also is a free carpool matching service through commuterconnect.org: Carpools of two or more adults may pick up a daily carpool permit at the city’s parking information kiosk near the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport on Airport Frontage Road. The permit allows for free parking in designated carpool or residential spaces in Aspen.
Some commuters may have already gotten the message. Starbuck said the city issued 6,600 carpool permits in April, up 53 percent from April 2017’s 4,320.
The city’s traffic counts suggest that inbound traffic decreased 12 percent in April, compared with the same month last year. However, that figure doesn’t take into account the motorists who take McLain Flats Road to Cemetery Lane to get to Aspen to avoid the potential traffic snarl west of the roundabout and Castle Creek Bridge.
“The city has counters on Highway 82 before and after Cemetery Lane. The city does not currently have counters on McLain Flats and has not had counters on the road,” Starbuck said. McLain Flats, which runs from Woody Creek to the northern end of Cemetery Lane, is a Pitkin County road.
At Monday’s City Council meeting, City Engineer Trish Aragon said an afternoon rush-hour process of “flushing” vehicles from Main Street onto the Castle Creek Bridge to speed up outbound traffic flow has proven successful.
“During the week, when we start getting backed up on Main Street, we’ll hold inbound traffic a little bit longer than we normally would, and vehicles, instead of being diverted from West Smuggler Street to Power Plant Road, will be diverted straight (along West Hallam Street) and continue across the bridge,” Starbuck said.
Starbuck said the “flushing” is done randomly, a few times per afternoon, and motorists shouldn’t always count on being part of the flush.
“Always follow the instructions of the flagger,” she said.
Aragon said no decision has been made on whether to push back the Aug. 12 start of phase III. Some local business owners expressed concern before and after the project’s start that August is still part of the summer tourism season and that the project break should be extended through Labor Day weekend.