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Free buses to link Aspen, Snowmass Village

Charles Agar
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Area elected officials on Thursday approved funding for free bus service connecting Aspen and Snowmass Village from June 6 through Nov. 26.

The Elected Officials Transportation Committee ” comprised of elected officials from Aspen, Pitkin County and Snowmass Village ” will subsidize the service, operated by the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, to the tune of $117,000 from the annual $1.5 million half-cent transit tax.

The approved funding for free buses includes $10,000 to conduct a study determining whether free service will increase the number of bus riders, as well as $5,000 to spread the word about the service.

RFTA officials estimated the cost of free winter service from November 2008 through April 6, 2009, could mean an additional $248,000, but RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship said the figure was not reliable.

The committee, or EOTC, will meet again April 17 to look at a new cost estimate for providing free buses between Aspen and Snowmass Village for the winter of 2008-09, and the committee could approve that funding then.

There are free skier shuttles connecting Aspen and Snowmass until 4:45 p.m. each day during the winter ski season, but the buses don’t make local stops beyond the Aspen Business Center. A seat on regular buses making all stops between the two towns currently costs $3.

Pitkin County Commissioner Jack Hatfield cast the sole dissenting vote Thursday, when the EOTC met in Aspen, but many on the committee expressed concern about spending the funds on bus operations ” money they say could be vital to financing a solution for the Entrance to Aspen.

“I think we’re spending money prematurely,” Hatfield said. “We should be looking at the bigger picture. Now.”

Hatfield called it “ironic” that, with crowded RFTA buses and many challenges to providing reliable bus service valleywide, the committee would support a free Snowmass connection.

“It’s a good idea. But it’s not a sustainable idea,” Hatfield said, adding that the free buses combined with the stress of some 500 new employees at Snowmass’ Base Village now under construction will be too much.

“I’m very pleased,” said Snowmass Village Mayor Douglas “Merc” Mercatoris. “This is something I’ve been working on for a long time.”

The goal of the free buses, Mercatoris said, is getting people out of their cars and into buses, and the mayor stressed that the plan is not just good for Snowmass Village but for Aspen and the rest of the valley.

At Thursday’s meeting, EOTC officials also approved an additional $480,000 to meet an $8.98 million bid to build approved bus lanes from Buttermilk to the roundabout on the outskirts of Aspen.

The elephant in the room at any EOTC meeting, however, is the traffic bottleneck at the Entrance to Aspen.

Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland said the City Council will hold a work session to talk about various scenarios to solve the city’s traffic woes, and he said there could be ballot initiatives regarding the entrance on the November ballot.

Other elected officials challenged the committee to come up with larger, long-range strategies for transportation and transportation funding valleywide.

To that end, EOTC officials approved a plan to hold a transportation summit to analyze the broader issues. The group will discuss plans for the summit as well as for the Bus Rapid Transit system at its April 17 meeting.

cagar@aspentimes.com


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