Junction joins mountain rail backers | AspenTimes.com

Junction joins mountain rail backers

Emily Anderson
Grand Junction correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GRAND JUNCTION – The Grand Junction City Council is hoping to make slow-moving lanes of traffic along Interstate 70 a thing of the past by adding the city’s name to the Rocky Mountain Rail Authority membership list.

The City Council voted 6-0 Monday to join the authority, which was established in March to bring together governing bodies in Colorado that support building a transportation system, such as a light rail, along I-70, with branches reaching to mountain towns like Steamboat Springs, Aspen and Winter Park. The city and county of Denver are expected to join this week, according to RMRA Director Flo Raitano.

Each governing body pays a fee to be part of the authority.

Raitano told council members Monday that the authority’s aim is to ease traffic on I-70 with an alternative to flying or taking an Amtrak train. Raitano said the authority wanted to include Grand Junction, in far western Colorado, so travelers could take the system to the Grand Valley and fly out of Grand Junction Regional Airport to reach ski areas.

“There is some logic to us being here and talking to you tonight because you all have a big airport here,” Raitano said.

Raitano added the transportation system would plan to move travelers as fast as highway speeds.

Business people fed up with the commute on I-70 from Denver to Grand Junction would likely take a shine to the new system, Councilwoman Teresa Coons said.

“If we can’t get people here … we might as well forget about encouraging these businesses to be here,” she said.

Mayor Jim Doody agreed with Coons’ sentiments.

“You’ve done great work and we need to be a part of this,” Doody said.

Members of the authority hope to conduct an 18-month feasibility study to determine how many places will be interested in the system, what type of transportation technology will work best, and see how the authority will tackle issues like 90-degree turns and wildlife on the route. The Colorado Department of Transportation is willing to chip in $2.3 million for the study, RMRA Chairman Harry Dale said.

Michael Penny, chairman of related organization the I-70 Coalition, said that group hopes the new transportation system would eventually connect Casper, Wyo., to Albuquerque, N.M., north-south and go east-west from Utah to Kansas.

Aspen, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Eagle and Garfield counties are among the almost three dozen towns and counties that are already authority members.