Myrin hopes to stop transit funding plan | AspenTimes.com

Myrin hopes to stop transit funding plan

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Bert Myrin, a candidate for the Aspen City Council, recently sent letters to Colorado’s congressional delegation urging them not to support $64 million in federal funding for an improved valleywide bus system.

Myrin is concerned that an improved bus system would cross the Thomas and Marolt properties between the Maroon Creek roundabout and Main Street in Aspen, especially after a local transit consultant said leaving the bottleneck in Aspen unresolved could lower federal enthusiasm for the larger project.

“I urge you NOT to support a request for $64 million to improve the 68-mile transit corridor between Rifle and Aspen if your expectation is that this money is contingent on utilizing Marolt Park, the meadow at the Entrance to Aspen for the last 1/4 mile of that corridor,” Myrin wrote on March 27.

The congressional delegation, which includes Reps. Mark Udall and Scott McInnis and Sen. Wayne Allard, recently backed the proposed Bus Rapid Transit system, or BRT, in a federal transportation funding process.

The BRT plan assumes there will be either a light rail or bus-lane option across the Marolt property.

Two members of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority board, who went to Washington, D.C., in March to lobby the delegation, feel Myrin’s letter could weaken the federal support for the proposed BRT system, especially as the delegation wants to see local consensus on the project.

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“I have just returned from D.C. telling our elected officials we have consensus on the BRT program. And I think the letter undermines that,” said Dan Richardson, a Glenwood Springs city councilman. “As a Glenwood citizen, I don’t want a more efficient transportation system being jeopardized by one small component.”

Or, to put it another way, Richardson doesn’t want to lose out on federal funding for a faster, more high-tech bus system in the valley because someone in Aspen is concerned that the new system would cross the Thomas and Marolt properties.

“Aspen has to work this issue out,” Richardson said. “And I’m not trying to rush that, but let’s improve what we can now.”

Asked if he feels Myrin’s letter could jeopardize the chance for federal funding for the transit system, Richardson said, “absolutely 100 percent.”

“If there is an Achilles heel to this project, I think it is a lack of valleywide consensus and that being expressed to the feds.”

Aspen City Councilman Tony Hershey also went to Washington in March to convince the delegation of the BRT’s support, although he did tell them there was no consensus on the Entrance to Aspen.

Still, he believes Myrin’s letter has already had a negative effect in Washington.

“Udall’s staff certainly reacted that way,” Hershey said. “They didn’t understand where it was coming from. We really need to speak with a united voice on this. I think it was a great disservice to this valley that he wrote that letter. It is very selfish and very unreasonable.”

The BRT plan has been described as one that “thinks rail, but builds bus,” in that the system would incorporate many elements that would someday work for a valleywide rail system, such as better transit stations and park-and-ride lots.

But for the shorter term, the system would use better buses with additional express service and smaller feeder buses to cut down on travel times through detours like the one at Blue Lake in the midvalley.

The BRT planning process assumes that one of the options detailed in a 1994 environmental impact study will be, or will have been, implemented at the Entrance to Aspen.

The Entrance to Aspen EIS approved either a two-lane-with-light-rail configuration or two-traffic-lanes-with-two-bus-lanes configuration.

If light rail was the chosen option, than express buses from downvalley would stop at the airport and passengers would transfer to a light-rail vehicle that would run unobstructed to Rubey Park.

If the bus lanes were approved, the express buses would run on their own lane onto Main Street.

In 1996, Aspen voters approved the two-lane and light rail option, but support for that was subsequently eroded by both anti-rail and pro-four-lane factions.

In 2001, voters rejected the two-traffic lanes and two-bus lanes option.

And then last fall, city and Pitkin County voters were asked, without reference to transit, whether they preferred the S-curve option to the “straight shot” alignment.

The debate quickly became one about the character of Aspen, and voters expressed a preference for the S-curves.

The stretch of Highway 82 from the Maroon Creek roundabout and Main Street heading into town in the morning is frequently clogged, as is Highway 82 going out of Aspen in the afternoon. The traffic jams can easily add five to 10 minutes to a bus rider’s commute time.

RFTA calls the section the biggest bottleneck in its valleywide system.

Myrin, an attorney who lives in Aspen’s West End, is working to preserve the S-curves. He said he understands that it may make sense for an improved transit system to cross the Thomas and Marolt properties – from purely a transit efficiency standpoint – but he doesn’t believe it is a necessary component to improving the entire valleywide transit experience.

“The last 1/4 mile is a red herring, as any voter can see that improvements in efficiencies using BRT made over 68 miles will not be obliterated by the last 1/4 mile,” Myrin wrote in his letter.

The Thomas property was purchased with transportation funds. The Marolt property was purchased with both transportation and open space funds.

Last year, the Aspen City Council formally transferred the right of way across the properties to the Colorado Department of Transportation, which has the responsibility, if not the money or the consensus of Aspen voters, to complete some version of the Entrance to Aspen project.

For his part, Myrin says he is not against transit but feels all the options to improve transit use on the S-curves need to be considered, even though the 1994 process examined many options and rejected them as being too expensive or not improving efficiency enough to warrant them.

“I think the attitude of the government is that it is always easier to start anew, that it is easier to build a highway in a new field rather than fix the existing one,” Myrin said. “I’d like people to consider making what we have better.”

Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is bgs@aspentimes.com

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