Garfield County should couple housing with support for transit
Garfield County Commissioner John Martin’s go-it-alone attitude on regional challenges such as housing and transportation doesn’t make sense.Martin recently said Garfield County is looking into building apartments as close to Aspen as possible. A feasibility study is apparently under way to examine the costs of building between 100 and 200 rental units between Glenwood and the boundary of Garfield and Eagle counties near El Jebel.The idea is intriguing and may actually provide a solution for a small number of the workers who commute to the upper Roaring Fork Valley from as far away as Rifle.Aspen and Pitkin County run what in many respects is one of the most successful affordable housing programs in the country. With three decades of experience and a large housing fund at its disposal, the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority would have much to offer Garfield County if elected officials there decide to start their own housing program.Disturbingly, Martin told The Aspen Times, “It’s an issue we have in Garfield County, so we need to solve it ourselves.”That’s the same attitude that has kept Garfield County at odds with area governments over cost-sharing for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s bus service. Eight governments – Aspen, Pitkin County, Snowmass Village, Basalt, Eagle County, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and New Castle – subsidize the service with sales taxes.RFTA currently provides local service in Aspen and regional service from Aspen to Rifle. Buses stop in unincorporated Garfield County between El Jebel and Rifle and in the cities of Silt and Rifle even though those three jurisdictions refuse to contribute to the service.Frustrated about the “free ride” that those local governments are getting from RFTA, some dues-paying RFTA members have suggested terminating service to the areas that don’t contribute. Given the effects such a strategy would have on individual workers and the region generally, we’re not sure it makes sense.But Garfield County’s refusal to support RFTA borders on the insane. The bus service provides a much-needed lift for thousands of the county’s residents. Garfield County should be looking for ways to work with neighboring jurisdictions on everything it can, from transportation and housing to trail construction and economic development.Martin’s idea for affordable housing is a good one, but it should be coupled with long-overdue contributions to the public transit system – from Garfield County, Rifle and Silt. As the upper valley has learned, affordable housing and transportation are two aspects of the same regional problem, and they require regional cooperation.
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