Hard look needed on traffic in West Basalt
September 6, 2012
The Basalt Town Council meeting Tuesday will provide two golden opportunities to debate traffic issues on the west side of town.
The council is scheduled to vote on a proposed bus stop that’s associated with a new park-and-ride in the El Jebel area, and in a separate matter, it is scheduled to vote on approvals necessary for a drive-through coffee shop in Willits Town Center.
Basalt needs to pose some hard questions to the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority about the proposed bus stop in El Jebel, in front of the site where the former Mermaids restaurant was located. This newspaper is on the record supporting RFTA’s expanded bus system, and our support remains unwavering. However, we question why a 90-space parking lot at the Mermaids site is needed for the plan. El Jebel and West Basalt are already home to a sea of parking. Just a couple of hundred yards from where the bus stop is planned is the parking lot for the Eagle County Community Center. The spacious lot is often underused.
In addition, RFTA is building an enhanced bus stop for its bus-rapid-transit system at Willits Town Center, adjacent to Whole Foods. That is less than one mile away from the proposed parking lot at the Mermaids site.
The enhanced bus stop and associated parking make sense at Willits Town Center. It’s obvious that has become the hub of the midvalley with the opening of Whole Foods Market. There is plenty of parking there, including an underground parking garage, which, as of now, is virtually unused.
The Basalt Town Council doesn’t have the jurisdictional authority to reject RFTA’s parking lot at Mermaids. RFTA should make the move itself. The Federal Transit Administration already has awarded a grant for the work, but why can’t RFTA be a leader and tell the feds it’s paring the project down and saving money? RFTA could be a national model at a time when the federal budget is the key political topic. RFTA could gain notice for refunding a small portion of its federal grant.
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RFTA should build the enhanced bus stop at El Jebel, rely on existing parking at the community center and dump plans for the new parking lot.
Basalt’s other traffic-related issue is tied to a drive-through coffee shop proposed between Alpine Bank and the Whole Foods building at Willits Town Center. The council voted 5-2 on Aug. 28 to grant approval, but two readings are required. We would like to see the issue generate a little more debate and thought.
Council members shouldn’t vote based on whether they like to sit down with their laptop in a coffee shop or blast through with their pick-up and grab a cup. The real questions are: What kind of traffic will Willits Town Center generate when it is built out? Will the roundabout at Willits Lane and East Valley Road, which is so effective now, remain adequate at build-out? Can Willits Lane and the interior roads at Willits Town Center handle the traffic projections?
We don’t know the answers, but we sure wish the Basalt council would pose the questions. If traffic is going to be an issue for the existing infrastructure, Basalt shouldn’t promote a pure auto-oriented business.