Garfield County gives RFTA $248,000 | AspenTimes.com

Garfield County gives RFTA $248,000

Donna GrayGlenwood Springs correspondent

Bus service from Glenwood Springs to Rifle got a shot in the arm Monday when the Garfield County commissioners committed $248,000 to keep it running. The move is something of a change of direction for the county commissioners.”This is really a big step forward in terms of our cooperation between RFTA and the county,” said Roaring Fork Transportation Authority CEO Dan Blankenship.While the commissioners have supported RFTA trails projects and improvements to bus stops in the recent past, and in 2003 and 2004 gave $25,000 to support the service, since 2004 they have not supported the Grand Hogback service directly. The Hogback service started in 2002.When a 0.6 percent sales tax measure on the 2004 ballot to fund the Rifle bus route failed, commissioners Larry McCown and John Martin saw that as a signal from the voters living in unincorporated parts of the county that bus service was not a high priority, Blankenship said. The tax also would have funded RFTA trails projects and the Traveler service, which transports the elderly and disabled.

A poll conducted for RFTA that year showed the amount of the sales tax was higher than most voters would support. The ballot measure also failed, Blankenship said, because voters, notably those in Battlement Mesa, were being asked to approve a tax for transit when they lived in a place where there was no bus service.”It was kind of doomed to failure,” he said.But, the commissioners have continued to support RFTA in other ways. They gave $50,000 over two years to the construction of the Rio Grande Trail between Glenwood Springs and Aspen, and they have dedicated between $40,000 and $50,000 in revenues from fees collected on the Ironbridge golf course development to RFTA for improvements to bus stops on Highway 82.In considering the $248,000 contribution Monday, commissioners Trési Houpt and Martin voted for it, and McCown voted against it.”I can’t support this,” McCown said. “The numbers are not realistic.”

He said because the current Grand Hogback service makes only one stop in unincorporated Garfield County, the $248,000 that RFTA asked for “goes beyond what our obligation should be.” He said a more realistic amount was the $39,000 identified as the county’s share in a cost analysis model for the city of Rifle to determine what its contribution should be to the bus service.Houpt pointed out that while the buses make only one county stop, “People who catch the bus in various locations live in unincorporated parts of the county.”Rifle has a measure on the November ballot that will ask voters to approve a 0.2 percent sales tax to finance the bus service. If it passes, the tax would raise $248,000 in 2007.Blankenship has said the operating and capital costs of the Hogback service are approximately $655,390.

“Currently in 2006, aside from New Castle’s sales tax contribution and a $10,000 general fund grant from Rifle, the total net Grand Hogback cost is being covered mainly by Glenwood Springs,” Blankenship said in a letter to the county commissioners last week.The Grand Hogback service has proven to be worth the investment judging from the numbers of people who ride it daily. “Ridership has grown by double digits every year since its inception,” Blankenship said. Last year, RFTA reported it carried 56,000 passengers, and this year it is expected to top 62,000.Eventually, RFTA would like to expand the service to Parachute and Battlement Mesa, extend the hours of operation and step up to running buses every half-hour.Oil and gas workers swelling the populations of Parachute and Battlement Mesa could increase demand for bus service exponentially. And, downvalley service might overshadow RFTA’s premier route carrying workers on Highway 82 between Glenwood Springs and Aspen.”I think over time, maybe 15 years, service on the I-70 corridor will eclipse what we’re doing on the [Highway] 82 corridor,” he said.