Bus stop plan advances despite road woes
EL JEBEL – A midvalley portion of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s expansion plan got approved Thursday despite demands from some homeowners that it should be shelved until Eagle County government answers questions about road realignments.
The Roaring Fork Regional Planning Commission voted 3-1 to approve three sites for beefed-up bus stops RFTA wants to build on the north and south sides of Highway 82 at El Jebel and on the north side of the highway at Willits.
The bus stop and associated park-and-ride on the south side of El Jebel is embroiled in controversy and captured the most attention at the commission meeting.
Residents of Sopris Village, a 130-home subdivision in the neighborhood, vehemently oppose road and intersection realignments that Eagle County contends must be made to accommodate future traffic in the area.
Eagle County is working on a plan to realign East Valley Road so it would curl around the Movieland building, through the edge of RFTA’s proposed parking lot, through a sliver of Sopris Village’s playground and then through Crown Mountain Park on the south side of the existing Eagle County building.
The intersection of Valley Road, El Jebel Road and Sopris Village Drive would be pulled farther away from Highway 82, allowing more traffic to stack without interfering with the highway, according to county officials.
The Eagle County commissioners say the traffic associated with the RFTA parking lot and a proposed indoor recreation center at Crown Mountain Park triggered the need to change the roads and intersection.
The preferred alternative has met widespread opposition. Sopris Village is against it. Neither the Pitkin County commissioners nor the Basalt Town Council will sign off on the plan.
Several speakers at the planning commission hearing railed against the road-realignment plan Thursday despite the efforts of county officials to say it really wasn’t the right forum.
“It really is a separate matter from what we’re looking at today,” said Bob Narracci, Eagle County planning manager.
But a crowd of roughly 40 people, most from Sopris Village, expressed frustration that Eagle County’s process is a shell game. The road-realignment plan creeps along through the process without ever giving constituents a chance to comment on it. Sopris Village resident Alan Styers said he’s attended magic shows where it is easier to figure out what is going on. He said he feels a little duped about the plans after talking to various county and RFTA officials.
“Everybody had a different opinion about what, when and where,” he said.
Styers said RFTA’s bus stop proposal should not be allowed to move forward until the intersection and road-realignment plan is hashed out.
Michael Meiners, another resident of the subdivision, quizzed the county officials on when their voice will be heard on the road projects. Deputy County Attorney Bob Morris said it was his understanding that the county commissioners will hold a public meeting on the road plan once there is a design to work with. County officials also noted they have held open houses to discuss the plan.
Meiners said the open houses were of limited value.
“We didn’t get what we felt was an open-minded review,” he said.
Meiners is trying to convince the county that improvements can be made to the El Jebel Road and Valley Road intersection without encroaching on any park lands. The reception, thus far, frustrates him.
“Frankly I feel excluded from the decision process,” Meiners said.
Peter Thomas, an attorney who said he represented some Sopris Village homeowners, urged the planning commission to delay a decision on RFTA facilities until more was known about the Eagle County road plan.
“You guys are being asked to make a decision here without all the information,” he said.
RFTA representatives tried to avoid the fray. Angela Kincade, deputy project manager for the bus-system expansion project, stressed that Eagle County asked RFTA to get involved in the road plan. That didn’t stop critical comments from accumulating, so Sheri Sanzone, a consultant for RFTA, later added that RFTA would go along with modifications to the road plan if that’s the direction agreed to by all stakeholders in the process.
The Planning Commission’s approval of RFTA’s bus stops was made only after the board agreed to remove a condition that favored the county’s preferred alternative. The commission wants that process to be open-ended and included a condition urging that Sopris Village be invited to the table.
Commission chairwoman Temple Glassier voted against the RFTA plan after disclosing she was divided. The proposed bus stops are in the appropriate places, she said, but she had major concerns about the road planning. A more definitive plan – one that doesn’t affect Sopris Village – needs to be settled before RFTA’s amenities can be approved, she said.
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