Keep the rail, keep the dream
A valleywide trail, potentially built at the expense of future rail service in the Roaring Fork Valley, won’t have Aspen’s support when the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority board decides whether or not to sell old railroad tracks for salvage.The RFTA board is scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss the issue, though no decision on selling the rails for salvage is expected until March. Count Aspen as a “no” vote when the question comes up. Mayor Helen Klanderud, Aspen’s representative on the RFTA board, polled her colleagues on the matter Monday; they firmly opposed ripping out the rail, with Councilman Tim Semrau absent.Preserving the corridor for future rail transit was the top priority for the consortium of valley governments that purchased the rail line in the late ’90s, council members concurred, though supporters envisioned both rail and trail along the corridor.Tearing out the tracks now will make future rail an impossibility, several members predicted.”I think that’s inappropriately shortchanging future generations of this valley,” said Councilwoman Rachel Richards. “Maybe a dream of rail is decades and decades away, but I think this would be shutting the light off forever … putting up a roadblock to ever bringing that back.”When you pave miles and miles of rail bed over for a trail, you’re paving over your future, you’re paving over your options.””I think there are examples all over this country where it became impossible to reinstate rail once you tear up the tracks,” Klanderud agreed.Aside from opposing the salvage operation, council members were anxious to limit construction of a trail on the rail bed itself only to stretches where it’s absolutely necessary.RFTA’s current policy is to use the rail bed – where the actual tracks sit – for the trail only where geographic constraints exist, if the cost of using the rail bed is 30 percent cheaper than building off the bed.That would mean building on 45 percent of the rail bed between Glenwood Springs and Hooks Lane – at a cost of about $8.55 million over the next six years, according to RFTA, which oversees the corridor. If the rails are salvaged and the proceeds spent on the trail, it would cost about $5.4 million.RFTA plans to tackle the stretch between Carbondale and the Hooks area this year.If the tracks are sold as salvage, Klanderud questioned the wisdom in spending the money on the trail. Just last fall, valley voters approved increased taxes to keep RFTA’s bus system solvent, she noted.”If we build this trail and then two years later, we find we still can’t fund the bus system, I think that scenario would be horrible,” she said.Richards also questioned whether the valley would have to repay the Colorado Department of Transportation for its $3 million contribution to buying the $8.5 million corridor. CDOT was contributing to a “multimodal transportation system,” but Richards expressed doubt that a trail fulfills that definition.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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