Bus-system construction to begin in spring 2012
December 20, 2011
ASPEN – Pitkin County will be among the first places in the valley to see new stations for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s planned Bus Rapid Transit system when construction begins next year, but one station will be “mothballed” until it’s feasible to use.
Three months ago, the RFTA stop at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport was described as a problem point – where planning for Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, had stalled. Ongoing discussion about placement of a future, new airport terminal – the site of which would dictate placement of the bus station – was tripping up RFTA.
Based on initial commissioner input into the airport plans, the locale of the new stop has been nailed down: It will be located farther upvalley from the existing stop along Highway 82 in front of the airport. It will be closer to an envisioned new airport terminal, but farther away from the existing terminal.
On the opposite side of the highway, the BRT station will be built where the existing bus stop is located in front of the Aspen Business Center, according to Mike Hermes, BRT project manager for RFTA. He briefed commissioners Tuesday on RFTA’s progress in implementing BRT, an enhanced bus service that is scheduled to launch in September 2013.
Progress on the $46 million system slowed when Congress spent eight months haggling over the 2011 federal budget, delaying RFTA’s ability to acquire needed properties for the BRT system with federal funds.
On Tuesday, though, Hermes said he’s optimistic RFTA can still meet its schedule to implement the system if nothing else goes awry.
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“We’re pretty much down to the wire now,” he said.
Construction bids to build the stations will be opened in late January; a pre-bid meeting last week drew about 170 contractors, Hermes said. Construction of the facilities, to begin in April, is expected to cost $12 to $13 million, he said.
In unincorporated Pitkin County, BRT stops are planned at the Brush Creek intercept lot, at the airport/business center, and at Buttermilk.
The new station in front of the airport won’t be put into use until a grade-separated crossing is built between the stops at the airport and business center, Hermes said. An overpass versus an underpass to get pedestrians across Highway 82 is now under review; a consultant’s recommendation is expected in March. State funding for the project, however, isn’t currently contemplated before 2016.
Until the crossing is built, RFTA will continue to use the existing bus stop in front of the airport, Hermes said. Even where the enhanced bus stations replace existing stops, they won’t be fully functional until the system is ready to use. Until then, the new stations will work much like RFTA’s existing bus stops.
The BRT stations will feature new shelters, a platform to ease ingress and egress from buses, electronic signs that show “real time” bus information and machines from which riders can purchase tickets.
RFTA received a $25 million federal grant for the BRT project, which it calls VelociRFTA, and voters in the Roaring Fork Valley and New Castle approved $21 million in sales taxes dedicated to the expansion. The BRT project will add 18 new buses, add direct routes for quicker travel within the valley, add modern bus stops and make a number of small steps designed to make bus travel times and convenience competitive with private vehicles.