Even rail opponents back RTA for valley | AspenTimes.com

Even rail opponents back RTA for valley

Sarah S. Chung

It may require a “leap of faith,” but elected officials who oppose commuter rail in the valley nonetheless stand united in their support for creation of a regional mass transit authority.

“The future is an RTA,” said Aspen Councilman Tom McCabe in a recent discussion on a proposed Rural Transportation Authority. “I know if we kill the RTA, we’ll kill the train, but I believe the future is mass transit.”

Last week, elected officials from Aspen, Pitkin County and Snowmass Village renewed their commitment to both the formation of an RTA and seeking voter approval for up to $25 million in bonds to fund transportation improvements. As proposed, the RTA would establish a permanent valleywide tax district for mass transit.

“An RTA is the inevitable and only way to make significant improvements to the bus system,” said Aspen Mayor Rachel Richards. “If you’re really interested in more affordable, fast and convenient transportation, you’re interested in an RTA.”

Aspen Councilman Tony Hershey expressed a wariness shared by many who don’t believe a train is the immediate transit solution in the valley – that rail advocates are pushing an RTA as a “rail system in bus clothing.” But he agreed that a regionally funded authority is the only way to upgrade the valley’s financially troubled bus service.

In particular, upvalley officials are determined to institute a more equitable funding system after learning Pitkin County, Aspen and Snowmass Village are paying about 85 percent of the Roaring Fork Regional Transportation’s tab for valleywide bus service.

“I strongly support a regional transportation authority where we’re all involved in planning and all involved in paying for better service,” Hershey said.

Friction from opposing sides on the rail issue surfaced on the subject of funding future rail service with the RTA. The majority of Aspen City Council members and county commissioners likened the accommodation for rail to simply allowing for future decisions instead of obsolescence.

“I see the RTA as mode neutral,” Richards said. “It will only lead to rail or anywhere else if it’s the will of the people.”

“It’s like planning for a school that would allow for a gymnasium or extra classrooms if needed so the whole school wouldn’t be forced to move,” added County Commissioner Leslie Lamont.

Hershey countered that he didn’t want to see “a huge train station on the side of a road that won’t even serve RFTA.”

“Nobody does,” responded Snowmass Village Mayor T. Michael Manchester.

Unconvinced, Hershey complained during and after the meeting of the pro-rail faction’s attempts to “intimidate” and “use lawyer tricks” on people who don’t share their point of view.

Explaining his suspicions, Hershey said, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.”

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