Basalt hopes to take lead on rail vs. trail debate
The Basalt Town Council took a different position than Aspen or Pitkin County in the rail versus trail controversy, and it hopes to become a leader with its compromise strategy.Basalt supports tearing up and salvaging the track along the old railroad corridor as well as giving the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority the “flexibility to use the rail bed where warranted.”RFTA’s goal is to build a trail from Hook’s Lane near the Basalt Business Center to Glenwood Springs by 2010. Its current policy is to use the rail bed only when geologic pinch points and wetlands prevent using other parts of the rail corridor.The Aspen City Council decided earlier this month to oppose tearing up and salvaging the track. It wants to preserve it for a future commuter train by keeping a trail off the rail bed except when absolutely necessary.The Pitkin County commissioners took the opposite position. They want the track torn up and salvaged so the rail bed can be used for a trail to reduce the costs. The commissioners said the corridor would be preserved for rail despite the presence of a trail.”We’re in between,” Basalt Mayor Leroy Duroux said Wednesday night after his board deliberated.RFTA’s staff asked the board of directors to reconsider use of the rail bed as a cost-cutting maneuver. The staff estimates it would reduce the cost of trail construction by $2.2 million by using the rail bed completely rather than just when geology requires it.The debate initially split Basalt officials. “I just think it would be so short-sighted to preclude the possibility of rail,” said Councilwoman Anne Freedman.She said RFTA would always have the legal right to develop rail in the corridor, but it would be politically tough if a trail is on the rail bed.”It’s a judgment, but I have been a political scientist for 40 years,” said the retired professor.Councilman Glenn Rappaport, an architect, joked that he’s only been a political scientist for 20 years so his opinion was worth only half of Freedman’s. He said “political will” will pose a bigger threat to developing rail than a trail when the time comes. He said the rail bed shouldn’t be off limits for a concept that may or may not happen.Mayor Leroy Duroux said any future commuter train technology is likely to wipe out the trail, whether it’s on the rail bed or elsewhere in the rail corridor. Therefore, Duroux said, it doesn’t make sense to force the trail off the rail bed on principle.”I don’t see what the big debate is about,” he said.Rick Stevens, a former mayor of Basalt, urged the board to reach its own conclusion and not necessarily follow the lead of Aspen or Pitkin County. He said valley residents are getting frustrated because the rail versus trail debate just keeps going and going.”We need to take a position and stay there for a while so something can move forward,” Stevens said.Basalt’s council decided on a three-pronged strategy. Its motion urged RFTA to complete the trail by 2010; it supports tearing up the rails and selling them where possible; and it created the concept of letting RFTA use the rail bed where it works best to create a meandering, interesting trail route through the corridor.Town Manager Bill Efting reminded the board that “no decision in this valley” is made without revisiting it in six months. He said the council could always alter its direction depending on new information, but he also said the position might be adopted by other towns.RFTA’s board of directors is currently locked in ongoing debate over the rail issue in its monthly meetings.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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A ski season surrounded with uncertainty kicks off on Wednesday. The six inches of new snowfall Tuesday will allow opening of an additional 62 acres on Aspen Mountain, bringing opening-day total to about 160 acres.