Bus route in doubt?
September 16, 2006
Peach Valley resident Christine Burke rides the bus each day to her job in Glenwood Springs and can’t imagine doing without it.So it’s hard for her to hear that the future of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s Grand Hogback bus service is uncertain.”To me it would seem like a step backward if we stopped having the service,” she said.Burke is among an ever-growing number of people who rely on the service, which began in 2002. If its future was up to them, it might be secure. But instead it’s up to elected officials and voters, and as a result questions have continued to surround whether the service should be maintained in much of the area it now covers.The service’s future could become a lot clearer in November, when Rifle voters are expected to vote on a 0.2 percent sales tax the city would use to help fund it.Under the proposal, the city wouldn’t join RFTA, but would form its own transportation district. It would contribute some of the tax proceeds toward RFTA’s Grand Hogback service, leaving some money available for other transportation purposes.As questions about funding continue, so do the increases in Grand Hogback ridership. It’s at 42,280 through August of this year, compared to about 38,000 for the same period last year. Total 2005 ridership was 57,000, up from about 49,349 in 2004.RFTA-related votes have had mixed results among governmental jurisdictions served by the Grand Hogback route, which is named for the prominent ridge running along much of that stretch.In 2004, New Castle voters agreed to a 0.4 percent sales tax and $10 vehicle registration fee to fund RFTA. However, Silt voters turned down the same proposal. Garfield County residents living outside cities also rejected joining RFTA. Carbondale and Glenwood already are RFTA members.The city has put off placing a transportation measure to fund RFTA on the ballot out of concern in the past that it would compete with other tax measures before voters.”It got to the point that … you can’t wait forever, you’ve got to do something,” Rifle Mayor Keith Lambert said. The city decided to go for its own transportation tax so it would have more control over how the tax’s proceeds are spent.Getting tax approval won’t be enough in itself. The proposal also hinges on the city and RFTA successfully concluding efforts to reach an agreement for funding RFTA under the tax. A “no” vote presumably would leave RFTA and Rifle officials questioning whether the Rifle community wants or needs bus service, he said.It also could leave service to Silt in question. If Rifle voters approve a tax, that should secure service to Silt because buses pass through it in going back and forth to Rifle, Blankenship said.