Is RFTA’s word enough?
Roaring Fork Transportation Authority officials are trying to earn the trust of valleywide trail proponents with a multimillion-dollar promise in return for support in the November election.RFTA, which is trying to get valley residents to approve a sales tax increase Nov. 2, is pledging to spend an additional $3.99 million to complete a valleywide trail over the next six years if voters approve the sales tax increase. That means the agency would spend a total of $5.38 million to complete the trail to Glenwood Springs by the year 2010, according to Dan Blankenship, RFTA’s chief executive officer.About $1.39 million is pledged to the project regardless of the election results, but that’s not nearly enough to finish construction of a proposed trail along the railroad corridor.The trail already exists between Aspen and Emma. RFTA and the MidValley Trails Committee are extending it one mile farther downvalley this fall. That leaves roughly half the trail to complete to Glenwood Springs.RFTA won’t be bound by ballot-question wording to spend the extra $3.99 million on the trail. That makes trail proponents, such as Pitkin County Open Space and Trails director Dale Will, nervous.Will was among trail proponents who tried unsuccessfully to press RFTA’s board of directors this summer to phrase the ballot question in a way that required funds to be spent on the trail.Will warned that it would be unfair to use promises about trail construction in the campaign if funding wasn’t mandatory. He said RFTA risked opposition to its ballot question if it followed that strategy.But RFTA officials hope their word is as good as gold. The transportation agency’s preliminary 2005 budget emphasizes the financial commitment to trail construction.A political action committee working to get the sales tax increase approved also promotes the trail. The committee called itself Citizens for Trails and Transit.The election will likely focus on the future of the bus system. Without extra sales tax revenues RFTA cannot maintain the current level of bus service between Aspen and towns downvalley. But trail proponents could also swing the election, so RFTA must try to placate them.Blankenship said RFTA’s verbal financial commitment to trails isn’t an effort to spin the campaign. It’s a sincere effort to show the board is committed to completing the trail, he said.Whatever it is, it appears to be working. Will said he will personally support the ballot question because he supports transit and he believes increasing the sales tax is the best way to complete the valleywide trail.He would like to see the money pledged in writing, but he also believes in RFTA’s sincerity.”I’m confident that if they’re successful they will give priority to this trail,” he said.Rick Neiley, a member of Pitkin County Open Space and Trails board of directors since 1990, also said he wished RFTA’s promise for trail funding would be “on paper.””I don’t think it’s a question of trusting the current RFTA board,” he said. “There are some good people on it.”He is concerned that future board members won’t live up to the verbal promise to fund trail construction if RFTA runs into additional budget woes a few years from now.Jacque Whitsitt, a former member of RFTA’s board and now chairwoman of the MidValley Trails Committee, tried to get RFTA to put its financial pledge to the trail in writing. Although that was unsuccessful, she’s helping head the citizens committee’s effort to win approval for the ballot question.Even without a commitment from RFTA in writing, she believes approval of the sales tax increase is the best chance for the trail to be completed.”I would think the trails supporters would be thrilled,” she said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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