No bus service to Redstone decried
It may be a long time before bus service is extended up Highway 133 to Redstone, in spite of all the extra money voters throughout the valley just committed to public transportation.
On the other hand, it may be coming sooner than anyone expects. It just depends, says County Commissioner Dorothea Farris. But for the near term, it appears Redstone will not have a bus connecting it to the rest of the world.
Redstone’s nonexistent bus service has become an issue in the last week or so thanks to Robert Huntington, a 10-year resident of the former mining town.
Huntington is a semi-retired homeowner in the Swiss Village subdivision, a father of two teenagers and the former owner of the Redstone General Store. He has openly expressed his disappointment in the mass transit planning that is just beginning under the newly formed Rural Transportation Authority.
Huntington said the new agency should be looking for ways to pay for bus service to Redstone, instead of Rifle as called for under current plans.
Over the last 10 years or so, he noted, sales taxes collected in Redstone’s business district have sent more than $500,000 into county transportation coffers via the half-cent transportation sales tax. But that money hasn’t done much for business owners in Redstone. The town’s businesses, Huntington says, face even greater challenges in hiring employees than others around Pitkin County because people can’t get to work there on a bus.
Huntington also pointed out that a transportation study conducted by the Roaring Fork Transit Agency in the mid-1990s showed that Redstone could support twice-a-day bus service, once in the morning, once in the evening. Since then, the area has grown considerably, creating an even larger pool of potential riders.
“There are a lot of new families with kids who could use some safe transportation,” he said. “Even if they started with a 16-passenger van, they would find that there are a lot of people living up here who would use the service if it was available.”
Huntington’s biggest gripe, however, is with the transportation authority’s plan to run bus service between Glenwood Springs and Rifle. When Huntington sent a letter to transportation authorities inquiring about service for the Crystal River Valley, a reply came back from Michael Davis, RFTA’s top planner, with a copy of one section of the agreement between local governments that allowed for creation of the transportation authority.
Davis’ letter reads, “Redstone service was not included in the `regional transit service goals’ of the `Rural Transportation Authority Intergovernmental Agreement.’ … Because of a tight budget, services were prioritized. As a result, many services, including Redstone bus service, were not included in the list of goals.”
Those goals, according to that intergovernmental agreement, include half-hour service every day from Glenwood to Aspen, 15-minute peak-season service from El Jebel to Aspen, service to Snowmass Village and Carbondale, and new service from Glenwood to Rifle once an hour on weekdays and once every other hour on weekends.
“I think it’s grossly unfair to initiate service to New Castle and Rifle without first taking care of Redstone,” he said. “After all, we’re paying into the RTA; the people down there aren’t.”
Authorization for the transportation authority and the taxes needed to increase bus service were approved in November by voters in seven jurisdictions between Glenwood and Aspen. A key part of the ballot language for Glenwood Springs voters was the section that called for bus service to Rifle, New Castle and Silt, even though no taxes are being levied in those communities to pay for it.
Huntington blames County Commissioner Farris for misleading people like him into believing the transportation authority might actually change their situation up the Crystal. He says Farris told voters at an election forum last fall in Redstone that the RTA would make bus service along Highway 133 possible and likely.
“I think she’s broken her promise,” he said.
Baloney, says Farris. “Of course I didn’t promise there would be bus service. I promised to look into providing that service. All I can do is take it to the RTA board,” she said.
Even if the transportation authority agreed to it immediately, Farris pointed out it would take several months, perhaps even a year, to secure the equipment and staff needed to make regular service work.
“I agree that service to Rifle is needed, but I’m not sure it should be a priority over Redstone. I’m inclined to agree the other way,” she said.
Farris thinks it’s disingenuous to say Redstone residents and business owners haven’t received any benefit from their transportation taxes. When they drive on Highway 82, they benefit from the fact that thousands of would-be drivers are on a bus instead of clogging up the roads, she said. And even when they’re not on the road, she added, they benefit from cleaner air and clearer views because there is less air pollution.
“There’s been a lot of development up there over the last 10 years, and I think it’s time to look at providing service,” Farris said. “Not because we owe it to them, but because it’s needed.”
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