Don’t pave the tracks
Your editorial in the Friday, July 25, issue of The Aspen Times warrants comment.Over the course of the past few years a concerted effort has been made to pave over the existing railroad track of the old D&RGW rail bed for a bike path. Your recent editorial is an example of naivete in its finest form. Two years ago, I sounded the alarm on the indiscriminate use of the rail bed for a bike path. Evidently, this advice has “Gone With the Wind.”Having witnessed the dissolution of many valuable assets in this valley, one can only wonder if the removal of seven miles of railroad track in Pitkin County for a very popular and heavily used bike path is but prologue to the final removal of all the tracks in the Roaring Fork Valley. Will the dream for valley rail remain only a dream; to be swept into the dustbin of history? The “Rails to Trails” movement has converted hundreds of rail tracks to public bike paths or trail use. Most, if not all, have been worthy, serving the public good; but many “rails to trails” have reservations for the restoration of rail.If history is an indicator of things to come, then I suspect there will be a great uproar when it comes time to replace the track on the roadbed. Can you imagine the removal of the Rio Grande Trail to re-establish rail service to Aspen? No way! The community would take up arms to protect that trail.I support trail systems, even though they cost me hundreds of dollars a year in property taxes. The distinction I wish to make is: The use of the existing rail corridor for public transportation must be paramount. Trail improvements and other open space amenities must be secondary. The establishment of a trail on the rail bed must not be allowed to jeopardize the integrity of any future transit options.You mentioned, in your editorial, that a valley trail would be “a great community amenity,” “that would keep more cars off the road,” “an economic engine.” How much more then, would light rail serve to reduce auto congestion and sustain the economy of this valley? As a progressive newspaper, your pessimism about rail is not justifiable. Had our valley governments provided leadership with vision, we would now have rail service into Aspen. Private entrepreneurs tried to provide the financial and technical resources to bring rail into Aspen, but were told to go elsewhere, and that is exactly what they did! Our loss is another resort’s gain.Paving over the track with asphalt to accommodate bikes is a dangerous precedent. For the preservation of the rail corridor, the track must stay in place. We must provide for an interim bike trail within the right-of-way without the removal of the track. Recreational activities must not interfere with any future transit options. The bike trail must not become a Trojan horse to dispel any hope for a long-term transportation solution for the valley. If we intend to replace the track, it will be at less cost from an existing rail bed. Once you pull the track, you cannot use rail to transport equipment and material. What assurances do we have that any track will ever be replaced? Are we doomed to be stuck in traffic on a dangerous and polluted highway for the rest of our lives? Where is the vision? Where are the leaders?Jim Markalunas, rail advocateAspen
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