C’dale may opt to miss the bus
Carbondale residents may soon be missing the bus – everyday.
The town of Carbondale is the only one of eight jurisdictions in the Roaring Fork Valley to cast its vote against a plan to form a valleywide transportation district to pay for mass-transit improvements.
And if Susie Darrow, the town trustee who cast the no vote, prevails in deliberations with her fellow trustees, Carbondale voters may not get the chance to vote on a proposal that would enhance bus service between Aspen, Carbondale and Glenwood.
Elected officials from all eight governments – Aspen, Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, Snowmass Village, Eagle County, Garfield County and Pitkin County – met at Carbondale Town Hall yesterday to hammer out the final details on an agreement that would allow for creation of a Rural Transportation Authority.
The agreement must now go to public hearings in each jurisdiction. After that, the individual town councils and county commissions will vote on whether to refer the issue and the accompanying sales-tax increases to their respective electorates.
By one trustee’s estimate, there are three votes on the town board of trustees in favor of referring the question to the voters, two against and two sitting on the fence. If four trustees don’t vote in favor of the plan, voters in Carbondale will not have a say one way or the other about the proposed RTA.
The transportation authority would encompass the entire Roaring Fork Valley and be charged with managing and funding mass transportation between Glenwood Springs and Aspen, with limited service to Rifle.
Transportation authority supporters say it is needed to spread the funding burden to places like Carbondale and unincorporated Garfield County, which currently pay little or nothing for bus service from RFTA. Aspen and Pitkin County have paid for nearly all the bus service in the valley for the last 15 years, using two voter-approved sales taxes, totaling 1.5 percent, that are dedicated to transportation funding.
The plan calls for sales-tax increases to pay for transportation improvements in every community except Pitkin County and Aspen, although Aspen is expected to ask voters for the right to implement a hotel tax to cover the cost of local service. Sales taxes will increase 0.4 percent in Carbondale if voters there agree to join.
Service in Carbondale is expected to increase dramatically if voters approve the transportation authority, with buses leaving every half-hour to Aspen and Glenwood Springs. Right now, RFTA provides hourly service from Carbondale to Aspen, and buses to Glenwood run once every two hours.
Darrow’s objections are based on two issues. The first is the future of Highway 133, which runs from Highway 82 through Redstone and up McClure Pass. The bridge over the Roaring Fork is causing long backups, and the two-lane configuration through Carbondale’s mall and retail district makes left-hand turns impossible during much of the day.
Darrow and Carbondale Mayor Randy Vanderhurst requested that Carbondale and other communities receive refunds on their contributions to the transportation authority’s budget if it is running a surplus.
Darrow said the extra money is needed to rebuild the bridge and widen the highway, especially in light of the mall planned for a vacant lot near the Colorado Rocky Mountain School campus. If built, the mall is expected to double the total square footage of retail shopping in Carbondale. The town has no road impact fees or other mechanisms for making developers pay for their impacts, so the cost of dealing with the increased traffic rests solely with the town and its taxpayers.
Darrow pointed out that the Colorado Department of Transportation has no plans for Highway 133 in the foreseeable future, and the extra money would go a long way toward enticing the state to chip in.
“We’re not a home rule city, so we’re tapped out on our ability to raise the sales tax,” Darrow said. “And it’s going to take us dangling money in front of CDOT to have anything happen with 133.”
But representatives from other governments didn’t think a complicated refund formula was the answer to Carbondale’s dilemma. Instead, they promised to look at enacting a $10 vehicle licensing fee that could be used to help pay for road projects, and search for other means of helping Carbondale widen the highway.
“The improvements on Highway 133 are a good idea, but that’s not what we’re asking voters,” said Pitkin County Commissioner Leslie Lamont. “What we’re asking voters for is their support for funding specific mass-transit services.”
Darrow also objected to the rules on opting out of the transportation authority. Carbondale and other members would not be allowed to opt out during the formation stage if voters in all eight jurisdictions give the plan their support. But if voter support is lacking in either Aspen/Pitkin County or Glenwood Springs, then any community can opt out within 21 days of the November election.
Darrow said she thought the Carbondale board of trustees ought to be able to opt out even if Carbondale voters approve the formation of an transportation authority. She also objected to provisions that made it difficult for individual communities to opt out once the transportation authority is up and running.
Vanderhurst said he was going to push the Carbondale board of trustees to approve the agreement and refer the question to voters.
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