Aspen, Snowmass and RFTA to receive more than $10M in federal transit assistance

The first two rows of a RFTA bus is closed off to give the bus drivers distance from passengers due to the coronavirus on Thursday, March 12, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

The city of Aspen’s transportation department, which has been hard hit in tax revenue reductions, is expected to receive up to $1.7 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) funding.

Public transit in the upper Roaring Fork Valley likely will gain more than $10 million in funds from the act. The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority is looking at a possible $8.4 million and another $500,000 going to Snowmass Village.

“This is a huge help because it gets us through the end of the year,” said John Krueger, Aspen’s director of transportation.

The transportation department is anticipating losing $1.3 million in funding this year due to COVID-19, which has severely impacted service levels both from an economic standpoint and a public safety perspective as only nine people are allowed on a bus at a time to follow social-distancing protocols.

“We lost revenue from the sales, lodging, use tax and paid parking, which is not in effect,” Krueger said, adding his department also gets a share of Pitkin County’s sales tax receipts, which also are down. “So, this money has helped replace the downturn in revenue losses.”

The city operates eight routes in town, but since public health orders were issued in March after an outbreak of COVID-19 cases in Aspen, service has been eliminated and reduced four times, according to Krueger.

Currently there are five routes operating with limited hours, including Mountain Valley, Burlingame, Castle and Maroon creeks, Hunter Creek and Cemetery Lane.

“We’ll be able to keep this level at least,” Krueger said.

The city’s transportation department will receive $1.2 million in the first phase of funding; a second round could produce another $500,000.

The Colorado Department of Transportation is administering CARES Act funding that rural areas will receive.

“CDOT did a good job to come up with a quick way to distribute the money,” Krueger said. “It’s a huge thing and it took some work.”

The CARES Act provided $25 billion to public transit agencies throughout the country, of which $22.7 billion will go to urbanized areas. The remaining $2.2 billion is set aside for rural communities in the United States.

“All in all, Colorado got $325 million and $39.7 million is for rural areas in Colorado,” Krueger said.

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority will receive just over $5.2 million from the first $17.8 million of the Federal Transit Administration’s CARES Act funding for rural transit systems that CDOT is releasing, according to Dan Blankenship, CEO of RFTA.

“In addition, RFTA will receive $100,000 … for the I-70 corridor Hogback bus service, for a total of approximately $5.335 million in total CARES Act funding in the first tranche,” he wrote in an email Wednesday. “RFTA is the largest rural transit agency in Colorado, which is why it received the greatest amount of CARES Act funding for rural transit systems.”

Blankenship said he anticipates another $3 million in the second phase of funding, which is expected to come in the next few months.

He said the estimated $8.4 million in CARE Act funding will help offset the losses in sales taxes, service contract revenue and money at the fare box, since RFTA suspended fare collections to protect bus drivers.

Snowmass Village also is receiving nearly $600,000 in CARES Act funding for its transportation services.

Outside of specific COVID-19 transit assistance, Aspen City Manager Sara Ott told The Aspen Times last month that she’s concerned about small, rural towns receiving aid.

The CARE Act provides $150 billion in aid to states and local governments, and it’s estimated that Colorado will receive $2.2 billion, but only municipal governments with populations over 500,000 receive payment directly from the federal government.

“There’s no guarantee that small communities will get money,” she said in April. “We hope the state finds a fair way that the Western Slope doesn’t lose out to the Front Range.”