EOTC approves strategic, comprehensive valley transportation plans

A family loads their scooters onto the bus at the Paepcke bus stop on Monday, July 13, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

The Elected Officials Transportation Committee has approved the group’s strategic and comprehensive valley transportation plans — both guiding documents it will use for future decision making and budgeting.

On Thursday, the committee, which includes Aspen, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County elected officials, met virtually for the second time during the COVID-19 crisis. Its March meeting was canceled due to the pandemic and its last meeting was in April, which is when the committee virtually discussed moving forward with a handful of long-term and near-term improvements to the Brush Creek Park and Ride.

At the recent meeting, the EOTC was set to review and approve its strategic plan and Comprehensive Valley Transportation Plan (CVTP). The strategic plan is intended to be a high-level or more broad view guiding document that includes the EOTC’s mission and vision statements, and the CVTP is intended to build from the strategic plan to identify policy level expenditure priorities for the EOTC over the next several years, according to EOTC documents.

However, to utilize the EOTC’s time Thursday as much as possible, David Pesnichak, transportation administrator, asked each governing body to approve the strategic plan at their “prep meetings,” which are held separately from but in preparation for the larger EOTC group meetings.

“We’re trying to move things along so we can get as much done in this meeting and then in the meeting coming up on July 16,” Pesnichak said to Snowmass Town Council during its regular meeting and EOTC prep meeting July 6.

The strategic plan “provides the framework to guide the EOTC’s decision-making, work planning and budgeting.” It includes an introduction to the EOTC, its regulatory and ballot requirements, its history, where it is today and its mission, vision and key strategies moving forward, as outlined in the Thursday meeting packet.

The plan identifies the EOTC’s new mission statement as “Work collectively to reduce and manage the volume of vehicles on the road and parking system to continue to develop and support a comprehensive multi-modal, long range strategy that will insure a convenient, equitable and efficient transportation system for the Roaring Fork Valley,” the packet states.

All three bodies approved the plan unanimously prior to Thursday’s meeting, allowing the EOTC to jump right into its review of the CVTP.

“I just want to hallmark this as a key moment for the EOTC moving forward,” Pesnichak said, noting that this is the EOTC’s first adopted strategic plan and the first time the upper valley’s guiding transportation documents have been updated since 1993.

After recognizing the strategic plan approval, Pesnichak began explaining the CVTP, which identifies policy level priorities for spending the EOTC’s shares of revenue from the half-cent transit sales and use tax in Pitkin County, utilizing guidance from the strategic plan.

The updated CVTP presented to the EOTC on Thursday identifies five regional priorities for the whole Roaring Fork Valley, including improving park and ride lots and transit speed, accessibility, reliability and efficiency. It also identifies five upper valley, or Pitkin County, priorities, which are:

Create/improve bike and pedestrian connections to transit stops and the Brush Creek Park and Ride

Making the airport and Aspen Business Center area a “multi-modal” transportation hub, improving circulation and access

Create a multi-modal solution to the entrance to Aspen

Further identify and improve the Snowmass Village to Brush Creek Park and Ride route as a part of the main Highway 82 Corridor Transit Service

Electrify the transit system

Pesnichak said the EOTC has already obtained a Colorado Department of Transportation “50 percent match” grant to study how to improve overall bike and pedestrian accessibility to the transit stops between the airport and Maroon Creek roundabout in 2021 — aligning with the first upper valley priority — if the EOTC decides to allocate funding for it later this year.

After little discussion, the EOTC unanimously approved the CVTP, acknowledging how comprehensive and well-done it is.

Committee members then asked Pesnichak how the COVID-19 crisis has impacted the EOTC revenue and budget, and received a brief update on the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s operations amid the pandemic.

According to Pesnichak, the EOTC was already anticipating a 23% decrease in its revenue this year compared with 2018. This is because of the new state Sales and Use Tax Administration law that went into effect June 2019 and requires all retailers, including those that don’t have a physical presence in Colorado, to collect state and local sales tax at the point of delivery, EOTC documents explain, meaning less collection of use taxes and more collection in sales taxes.

As of June with the negative economic impacts of the pandemic taken into consideration, Pesnichak said the EOTC now anticipates a 30.7% decrease in revenue. However, he said all ongoing service obligations and projects, including the free fare transit from Aspen to Snowmass and WE-Cycle, should not be affected through 2024.

“Right now, running all of the numbers even for the most pessimistic scenarios I had in front of me, we’re still able to meet all of our ongoing operational expenses,” Pesnichak said. “So while it is a reduction, we’re not in a crazy mode yet. We’re still OK at this point.”

The city of Aspen will host the next EOTC meeting, which is scheduled for October 29.