Basalt questions RFTA growth
ASPEN ” A multimillion-dollar proposal to expand the bus system in the Roaring Fork Valley got a chilly reception from some Basalt Town Council members Tuesday night.
Mayor Leroy Duroux said he was “unhappy” with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s proposal because it envisions building park-and-ride lots in Basalt rather than starting internal “feeder” bus service to deliver people to mainline service.
“We’re taking cars off the road, but we’re not taking people out of the cars,” Duroux said.
The mayor said he always understood, from years of discussions, that any expansion proposal by RFTA would include new bus service for Basalt that would help residents get from one part of town to another. Orchard Plaza, home of City Market, is already a major destination for Old Town Basalt residents, who live four miles away. Willits Town Center will increasingly become a commercial hub when Whole Foods Market is completed before the end of the decade.
Councilman Chris Seldin also voiced displeasure with RFTA’s plan. He said Aspen and Glenwood Springs, the towns at opposite ends of the mainline service, understandably don’t want large parking lots to accommodate people driving in private vehicles.
But solving that issue cannot come at the price of a bus system that adds hundreds of parking spaces in midvalley towns, Seldin said. It isn’t “politically palatable” to go against Basalt’s land-use direction by building a bunch of parking spaces, he said. RFTA officials are working on an expanded system called Bus Rapid Transit, informally known as RFTA on steroids. The grand vision is for a system that would add buses for more direct service between downvalley residential centers and upvalley jobs. It contemplates building 12 bus stations accompanied by thousands of additional parking spaces.
The cost of the overhaul is about $170 million to $190 million. RFTA’s board of directors acknowledged earlier this month that the price tag is too hefty because of funding limitations. They directed the RFTA staff and consultants to work on a scaled-down or phased approach.
One possibility is an expanded but-scaled back system that would cost about $102 million in capital costs, including nearly 500 parking spaces. Seldin said he was “shocked” that the price didn’t include feeder bus service.
RFTA planner Kristin Kenyon and CEO Dan Blankenship said they would deliver that message to a planning group and possibly rework proposals with feeder service. However, they stressed that the Bus Rapid Transit system needs new stations with parking lots to be successful.
The RFTA staffers are meeting with local government officials and the public to discuss the expansion proposal. RFTA’s board favors seeking a sales tax increase in the November election.
Duroux was clearly agitated at the idea of another tax hike for RFTA. Voters approved a sales tax increase for the transportation agency in 2004. “How many more times are we going to ask voters for money?” Duroux asked.
Blankenship responded that RFTA’s is experiencing unprecedented growth. A record 4.4 million passengers rode buses last year and the agency struggled to match demand this winter.
Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt defended RFTA’s need to seek a sales tax increase to fund expansion. As long as governments of the Roaring Fork Valley approve growth ” generating more people and more traffic ” RFTA must seek ways to meet demands, Whitsitt said.
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