Former Highway 82 engineer: Mass transit needs boost |

Former Highway 82 engineer: Mass transit needs boost

A former state engineer who helped widen Highway 82 to four lanes said it’s critical for the valley to invest more in mass transit before it is sabotaged by gridlock.Ralph Trapani, who oversaw most of the four-laning for the Colorado Department of Transportation before his retirement, said improvements to the existing bus system and possible creation of light rail into Aspen are necessary to maintain the valley’s quality of life and keep the economy humming.Trapani noted that the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority buses have traditionally been responsible for about 30 percent of “person trips” in and out of Aspen during winter days.”Frankly, for many years RFTA was saving our bacon in this valley,” Trapani told about 200 people at a New Century Transportation Foundation symposium Friday in Aspen. The symposium explored the relationship between transportation issues, energy demands and global warming.Despite RFTA’s success, its effectiveness is compromised by congestion and lack of funds, Trapani said. Mass transit cannot compete against private vehicles when it takes 1 hour and 40 minutes for the trip between Glenwood Springs and Aspen, he said.Buses have been particularly plagued by traffic jams leaving Aspen during afternoon rush hours on weekdays. In recent weeks it has taken buses up to 50 minutes to get from Rubey Park in downtown Aspen to Cemetery Lane. Buses have no advantage over private vehicles in stop-and-go traffic on Main Street.”The downvalley (stretch) is giving us pretty good travel times,” said Trapani, noting that the “the conundrum” is at the entrance to Aspen. “Unreliable travel times are a symptom of a stressed out system.”Trapani and the New Century Transportation Foundation are promoting a Bus Rapid Transit system to take RFTA to the next level of efficiency and effectiveness. That would require bigger and more comfortable vehicles, preferably hybrids; bigger and better transit stations; more direct trips without stops; and either continued use of the high-occupancy vehicle lane on Highway 82 or use of the old Rio Grande Railroad corridor for a dedicated busway.Trapani said he dismissed criticism that mass transit needs too much of a subsidy. Highways receive 82 percent of transportation dollars in Colorado compared with 18 percent for transit, he said. “Highways are heavily subsidized in America.” After his presentation, Trapani said he remains a supporter of CDOT’s decision for the entrance to Aspen as a way to alleviate congestion in and out of Aspen. The two-lane road has trouble handling traffic volumes between Buttermilk and Seventh Street.”Something would have to be done through the Marolt property” to fix the problem, Trapani said.CDOT recommends moving the two-lane highway from its current alignment to a route across the Marolt open space into Aspen. It also included a light rail corridor.The idea was endorsed by voters in 1996. In two subsequent elections, the so-called straight shot alignment with a dedicated busway was rejected by voters.The straight shot has been opposed by people who are concerned about preserving Aspen’s character. Many feel that approving the straight-shot alignment would be too accommodating to vehicles and invite additional traffic.On the other hand, traffic congestion is strangling the town with air pollution, and stop-and-go traffic adds significantly to Aspen’s carbon emissions.Pitkin County Commissioner Mick Ireland said opposition to CDOT’s entrance plan stems from local residents’ frustration with growth.”The reason it doesn’t have popular support is it’s the one symptom of growth you can control,” he said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is

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