Most candidates can’t back rail if it goes just to airport
This is the fourth part in an ongoing series of articles in which The Aspen Times seeks comment on various issues from candidates for city office.
We are asking the candidates one question per day and will print their brief answers. Four candidates are seeking election as Aspen’s next mayor and six are vying for two City Council seats. The election is May 4.
If a vote on a valleywide rail system fails, should the city push ahead with plans for the airport-to-Aspen rail link? Helen Klanderud, mayor No. Without valleywide rail, the rail section from Aspen to the airport doesn’t work. Witness the failure of the airport park-and-ride. The entrance to Aspen proposal includes two distinct sections: Rubey Park to the airport, airport to Brush Creek, for a total cost of approximately $72 million. The current proposal is that the Aspen-to-the-airport section be funded using existing local revenues, i.e. half-cent transit sales tax, Aspen parking and general revenues, and cumulative reserves from these funds. The airport-to-Brush Creek section is eligible for federal funding, and local funding provides matching funds for valleywide transit improvement. City and county voters must approve this funding. Without voter approval, we can’t build the rail to the airport. Michael O’Sullivan, mayor Although I do not support rail, in its limited form at this time, I would have no intention of blocking a vote on bonding if recommended in the Corridor Investment Study by RFRHA. Once the votes have been taken, I would like to try something different – act on the will of the majority. But I do not want to continue to spend $8,000 a month to lobby for federal dollars we’ll never see. I would not support the continued production of the tax-subsidized pro-rail material. Thousands of hours have been spent by city staff and millions of dollars over many years introducing and “educating” the citizens on rail. I think the voters of Aspen are smarter than the city gives them credit for. Rachel Richards, mayor There are no plans to build light rail from Aspen to the airport, although the CDOT study area for the record of decision was just Aspen to the airport. This was done because the Highway 82 corridor was segmented by CDOT so downvalley highway improvements could proceed faster and independently of the entire highway. Aspen, Pitkin County, and Snowmass Village have repeatedly said that the first phase, if approved, would be light rail to the Brush Creek turnoff. But clearly any system, valleywide or otherwise, could not and should not proceed without an affirmative vote. Bill Stirling, mayor I have an open mind about the train. I would like it to work, but I’m not yet convinced that it can. I believe the mayor’s position on any issue is less important than the mayor’s willingness to bring expensive and controversial issues to a vote of the electorate. I am not afraid of taking controversial positions, but I will never impose my opinions on an unwilling electorate. The train issue has frustrated many citizens, because of feeling left out of the process. Roger Haneman, City Council No. Though I believe in the light-rail concept, I also believe mass transit works best as a function of distance served, plus convenience. The modal changes necessary over a relatively short distance do not make an airport-to-Aspen light rail convenient enough to be successful. I believe light rail must be valleywide to achieve the goals we want. Tony Hershey, City Council Absolutely not! If the idea of a valleywide rail is bad, and I believe that in the near future it is, then to build a rail system just from downtown Aspen to the airport or Brush Creek road makes no sense at all. If you want a system to serve an intercept lot at either of the above two locations, let’s use buses. Buses are cheaper and more flexible. In addition, there is no way our visitors are going to get off an airplane with luggage and ski equipment and get on a train. I believe nobody will ride such a short system, like nobody uses the current intercept lot at the airport, and the costs of rail, even for this short a distance, are prohibitive. Tom McCabe, City Council No, I have never supported the idea of a train between Aspen and the airport. I support valleywide rail and for me that means a light-rail system that runs from the city of Aspen to the city of Glenwood Springs with carefully chosen stops in the communities in between. And my support for valleywide rail is conditional on two things. First, the corridor investment study must clearly indicate that we can afford it. Second, we must form a Regional Transportation District that includes players from all the communities involved. The complete failure of the airport intercept lot teaches us a valuable lesson. Switching the transportation mode from buses to trains will not be enough to overcome the reluctance of citizens and tourists to add another layer of inconvenience to their lives. Bruce Meyer, City Council Absolutely not. The way I feel now is that if you don’t have people getting off their planes and getting on buses, why would they get on a train? Even if it was done and paid for, there would be no ridership. Tim Semrau, City Council The Entrance to Aspen project (the straight shot over the Marolt property) can and should be a stand-alone project separate from the downvalley rail question. It will be years before a final decision is made on downvalley rail. The final Entrance to Aspen Environmental Impact Statement preferred alternative approves the straight shot with two lanes of traffic and light rail from the airport to Aspen, with two lanes of traffic and dedicated bus lanes as an approved alternative. Council has promised a vote on the Entrance to Aspen, and we should move ahead as soon as possible. It’s time to stop the decades of community bleeding over this issue and get on with it. Jake Vickery, City Council I believe downvalley rail is years out, both because of the funding requirement for the preferred alternative and the additional work needed on the project. I believe that we need to separate the Entrance to Aspen issues from downvalley rail issues.
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