Feds warn RFTA to finish system expansion on time

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

CARBONDALE – The federal government is pressing the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority to complete a $46 million bus-rapid-transit project by a September deadline or face possible repercussions.

Officials from the Federal Transit Administration Region 8 office in Denver toured the construction project last month and were “impressed with the progress” since June, according to a memo that Mike Hermes, project manager, wrote to RFTA’s board of directors.

But the officials also “took the opportunity to remind RFTA of the obligations of the federal grant agreement for the (bus-rapid-transit) system,” the memo said. In short, a $25 million federal grant must be spent by September.

RFTA President and CEO Dan Blankenship told the organization’s board of directors at a recent meeting in Carbondale that the feds won’t take away grant money if it isn’t spent by the deadline. Instead, he said, tardiness likely would jeopardize RFTA’s pursuit of other federal grants.

The project features newer, larger bus stations designed to be more inviting to riders and more accommodating in poor weather. Another 22 buses will be added to the fleet and called VelociRFTA to provide faster, more direct service between Aspen and destinations downvalley.

Activities by RFTA’s contractor, Gould Construction, wind down in December.

“By using lessons learned during 2012 and using the 2012-13 winter season to plan and coordinate for the 2013 construction season RFTA staff is optimistic that construction will be completed and the VelociRFTA BRT system will be operational by its target date of September 2013,” Hermes wrote.

Nevertheless, the project looks daunting. So far, here’s what has been completed or substantially completed:

• Carbondale station and park-and-ride lot.

• Basalt station upvalley and park-and-ride lot expansion.

• Brush Creek station.

• Buttermilk station upvalley and downvalley.

Projects that are under way and will be finished this year or next are:

• El Jebel station downvalley.

• Glenwood Springs 27th Street station and park-and-ride lot.

Several projects must be started and completed next year. They are:

• El Jebel station upvalley.

• El Jebel park-and-ride lot.

• Willits pedestrian underpass and stations upvalley and downvalley.

• Basalt station downvalley.

• Aspen Business Center pedestrian underpass and stations upvalley and downvalley.