Despite RFTA’s best efforts, traffic will overwhelm transit
Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series looking at travel patterns in the region. Monday’s article looked at how and why traffic is expected to increase so much by 2025.The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority – you can love it or hate, but you better appreciate it.RFTA is one of precious few tools to ease the gridlock that is expected to mushroom on Highway 82 over the next 20 years, according to an extensive new study on regional travel patterns.The study warned that traffic will increase by an estimated 50 percent on Highway 82 by the year 2025 and by 80 percent along Interstate 70 in Garfield County. Much of that growth will be spurred because Pitkin County is expected to add about 9,000 more jobs than people in the next 20 years, the study said.Paving the way out of the problem by adding more asphalt isn’t a viable long-term solution because the cost is prohibitive, according to the Local and Regional Travel Patterns Study commissioned by Healthy Mountain Communities, a nonprofit organization studies problems in Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties and seeks solutions.The expansion of Highway 82 between Basalt and Buttermilk was completed last fall at a cost of about $200 million.”You’ve sort of played that card. What’s next?” said Jim Charlier, a Boulder consultant who was one of the authors of the study.Regional bus service and carpooling will be two keys components for surviving the drive, the study concluded. And fortunately, said Charlier, the Roaring Fork Valley has one of the best bus systems to expand. It’s a “trendsetter” for mountain communities in the West.The 2000 Census found that 7 percent of Roaring Fork Valley workers commute by bus. That’s higher than Portland, at 6 percent, and Denver, at 5 percent, the two urban areas with the highest ridership.Another 20 percent of valley workers carpool, which is significantly higher than the national average. “Only 64 percent drive alone, a lower share than in many metro areas [Denver at 79 percent, Portland at 77 percent] and mountain communities [Summit County at 70 percent, Routt County at 73 percent],” the study said.Charlier said RFTA is poised to increase its share to 12 to 13 percent of the commuter market and carpooling will also likely expand. Unfortunately, that won’t keep pace with the overall increase in traffic.”Significant improvements in transit service will be made and will be beneficial, but they will not be sufficient to offset more than a modest percentage of growing traffic demand,” the study concluded.Healthy Mountain Communities Director Colin Laird said the study shows there is no easy way to deal with traffic congestion. It was undertaken, in conjunction with a Garfield County long-range planning project, to get policymakers to view issues that will arise in the next 20 years. Garfield County was a major contributor to the report, along with Pitkin County, Aspen, Snowmass Village and Rifle.”The growth is going to be so much it’s going to overwhelm the transportation system,” Laird said. “You can have the best bus system in the world but it’s going to be competing with that traffic.”While adding more lanes to Highway 82 and I-70 weren’t recommended, Charlier said downvalley areas can ease some of the strain on the main traffic arteries by creating better connections within their communities.”The suburban street patterns that have appeared throughout much of Eagle and Garfield counties over the past decade lack collector and connector streets and are poorly connected,” the study said. “As a result they place too much traffic on a small number of over-used arterials.”Investments should also be made in pedestrian routes that give people a legitimate shot at staying out of their cars within towns.Charlier said eliminating congestion is impossible. Aspen and Pitkin County have the best transit and affordable housing programs among mountain resorts. Still, they face traffic problems. So the goal of transit planning studies is to provide alternatives and options for people. “If it seems like there’s a negative message there’s nothing we can do about it,” he said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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