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Citizens group wants bigger role with Railroad Authority

Allyn Harvey

A palace coup is under way at the Roaring Fork Railroad Holding Authority.Members of the citizens task forces that have been studying and making recommendations on rail and other transportation issues for several years are now requesting a seat at the table where decisions are made.The Regional Citizens Task Force, an eight-member board made up of two people from each of the local task forces, voted unanimously Monday to request four seats on the holding authority’s policy committee and two, non-voting seats on its board of directors.The policy committee is made up of elected officials and others with an interest in how public transportation is developed and how the abandoned railroad right of way is used. The holding authority board is manned exclusively by elected officials from county and city governments in the valley.”I hope our recommendation is not taken as criticism of their work,” said Glenwood Springs citizens task force member Dave Sturges. “All we’re talking about here is ideas – getting as many of them out there as possible.”Sturges believes citizens task force members are less encumbered by other political pressures on the question of how best to move people between Glenwood Springs and Aspen. “We can take an at-large kind of posture that isn’t possible for elected officials who must represent their community,” said Sturges.Holding authority director Tom Newland said Monday’s vote came after several board members expressed concern about a disconnect between the citizen volunteers and the holding authority’s policy committee and board. While some of the policy board members have regularly attended citizens task force and regional task force meetings, Newland noted that many have not.”We’re thinking that this is a good way for all of the policy committee members to understand what’s happening with the citizens task forces and how they arrive at their recommendations,” Newland said.Regional task force member Charlie Tarver, who sat on the upper valley citizens task force, was less cautious with his comments than either Sturges or Newland. In particular, Tarver is critical of the policy committee’s recommendation to divert the train off the right of way at Gerbazdale rather than Brush Creek.With a 10-8 vote last fall, the upper valley task force recommended that a train, if ever built, should follow the original Denver & Rio Grande right of way through the Woody Creek area. But the policy committee and the holding authority board rejected that recommendation in favor of diverting a future train to the Highway 82 corridor.Policy committee members cited several reasons for their votes, some of which confounded the upper valley task force’s most vocal member. “It was clear a lot of them hadn’t even read their information packets about the task force findings and recommendation,” Tarver said.Tarver noted that Aspen City Councilman Jim Markalunas seemingly based his decision on the number of road crossings the train would make. While there would be more on the Woody Creek side of the river than on the Highway 82 side, Markalunas never considered that a single crossing of the highway would disrupt much more traffic.One policy committee member voted for the Highway 82 alignment solely because he thought the right of way should be a bike trail; others preferred the idea of running the trail up the median strip between the upvalley and downvalley lanes on Highway 82, even though there is no median near Aspen Village.”If those people had been more knowledgeable about the information their decision was supposed to be based on, we wouldn’t feel like we need to be at the table,” Tarver said.He did concede, however, that the demands on elected officials are relentless, while he and other task force members can focus on the issue at hand – a politically-sensitive proposal that needs approval from voters from several counties and cities. In fact, both Sturges and Tarver said task force representation at the decision-making level may give the elected officials the focus and political will needed to make significant changes to the valley’s public transportation system.”The citizens have just one goal – the best transportation system for the valley,” Tarver said.Newland’s staff is recommending in favor of adding four task force members to the policy committee, but against allowing them on the holding authority’s board of directors.The holding authority’s board was seated through an agreement between all member governments, the recommendation notes, so adding new members would be unwieldy. If seats are added to the board, the staff is recommending that the seats be non-voting and limited to issues addressed by the citizens task forces.The proposal will be taken up by the policy committee this Friday at 9 a.m. at Carbondale Town Hall. It will come before the board of directors on June 11.


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