Transportation officials approve $1.1 million in upper Roaring Fork projects | AspenTimes.com

Transportation officials approve $1.1 million in upper Roaring Fork projects

Elected officials from the upper Roaring Fork Valley approved spending more than $1.1 million Thursday on several ongoing transit-related programs and capital improvement projects.

That $1,154,000 worth of spending will come out of the Elected Officials Transportation Committee budget of $2.54 million, which also was approved by the officials from the city of Aspen, Pitkin County and Snowmass Village on Thursday.

Of the seven requests on the meeting's agenda for ongoing programs and capital improvement projects, the only one voted down by committee members was an $80,000 request to study building a pedestrian underpass at Buttermilk near the intersection of Highway 82 and Owl Creek Road. The committee previously allocated $800,000 toward that project.

Brian Pettet, Pitkin County's public works director, told the committee he's been looking closely at the Buttermilk project and found it will likely cost millions to build.

First, the topography doesn't favor an underpass because it slopes up toward the ski mountain, he said. A better and cheaper option would be to build an overhead bridge, Pettet said, though opposition to that idea would likely be fierce.

"I immediately saw (former Aspen Mayor) Mick Ireland in my face saying no way (to that idea)," Pettet said.

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A second point against building the underpass is that very few people cross the highway at Buttermilk between April and November, he said. Finally, Aspen Skiing Co. officials have said they are not interested in helping fund that underpass because they don't think it's needed, Pettet said.

Snowmass Village Town Council members voted no on that project, which effectively killed it.

Capital improvement projects approved by the committee Thursday include $500,000 toward establishing a fully electric bus fleet that includes building charging stations, $50,000 to study how to rebuild the transit center at the Snowmass Village Mall and $50,000 to study installing a permanent variable message sign downvalley from the Brush Creek intersection that would warn drivers of possible problems in Snowmass Village and the upper valley.

That sign — if the study deems it necessary — is estimated to cost $400,000, according to EOTC documents.

One ongoing project that received the thumbs-up from elected officials Thursday was the popular bike-sharing program WeCycle. Mirte Mallory, the program's director, asked for $100,000 a year for the next three to five years, though that was too much commitment for the committee.

Instead, elected officials decided to fund the program at $100,000 a year for two years and revisit it once a city mobility plan currently in the works to get people out of their cars is established.

The officials also decided to spend $160,000 to hire a regional transportation planner who would be responsible for shepherding regional transit projects through the EOTC process. The idea for the planner came from a recent transit symposium at the Aspen Institute.

The most contentious item on Thursday's agenda involved increasing bus rapid transit to Snowmass Village so that buses would run every 15 minutes in the spring, summer and fall rather than every 30 minutes. Winter buses to Snowmas Village run more frequently.

Snowmass Village town council members wanted the entire $294,000 price tag for that service to come out of the EOTC budget as a whole.

However, other elected officials gravitated more toward a compromise proposed by Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards to split the cost between the EOTC and Snowmass Village. Under that scenario — which was approved — half the money would come from Snowmass Village's savings account. The program would be funded for two years, according to Thursday's vote.

"We'll take whatever we can get," said Snowmass Village Mayor Markey Butler after the proposal was approved.

The committee's budget comes from a half-cent sales tax in Pitkin County, though 80 percent of the $5.3 million generated by that tax for 2018 goes to the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority. The rest of the EOTC budget comes from a half-cent use tax on construction materials, motor vehicles and other items used in the county, as well as investment income, according to EOTC documents.

jauslander@aspentimes.com