Push is on for a vote on rail | AspenTimes.com

Push is on for a vote on rail

Two Aspen City Council members, along with a Pitkin County commissioner and two private citizens, will be campaigning to put a “light-rail” question before city and county voters this fall.

Local anti-rail activist Jeffrey Evans confirmed Tuesday that council members Tony Hershey and Tom McCabe, as well as county Commissioner Patti Clapper, will be working on the petition drive.

Filling out the legally required five-person campaign committee are former mayoral candidate Michael O’Sullivan and local real estate agent Lori Winnerman.

Asked about the purpose of the petition drive, Evans said, “I’m just following up on what I did last year.”

In the 1997 election, an Evans-sponsored petition drive put a question on the ballot, which was passed by the voters. It was intended to force an election on whether voters would authorize the use of government bonds to pay for a proposed light-rail system between Brush Creek and the center of Aspen.

That question required that, if a bonding election had not been held by Nov. 3, 1999, the county must stop using public money to study the rail issue until after the completion of the Highway 82 expansion project between Buttermilk and Aspen.

Hershey, McCabe and Clapper all won their seats in part because their opposition to current plans for building a light-rail system into Aspen. O’Sullivan also expressed strong skepticism about the light-rail system in his failed campaign last spring. Mayor Rachel Richards and council members Jim Markalunas and Terry Paulson are all on record as supporting the light-rail plan.

According to City Clerk Kathryn Koch, McCabe filed an affidavit for the petition drive on Tuesday morning. But McCabe also has scheduled a “brainstorming session” with the rest of the City Council, on Aug. 3, concerning whether or not the council itself wants to put a light-rail question on the ballot.

Clapper is expected to present a similar request to the Pitkin County commissioners today, in order to have a version of the same question put to a countywide vote.

According to ballot language provided by Evans, the voters will be asked if they want the city to take on up to $20 million in debt for the city’s share of the cost of building light rail from the airport into Aspen.

The question states that, should the city’s voters approve the bond issue, it would only be carried out if the county voters also approved a total of $36 million in debt to build the rail system. The bonds are to be repaid out of the county’s half-cent transportation sales tax.

Defeat of either ballot question, under the language proposed, would result in construction of dedicated bus lanes instead of the light-rail line, as outlined in the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision about the Entrance to Aspen. The ballot language also mentions that the right of way for the bus lanes is the same one that was approved for “construction of an eventual light-rail system.”

According to Koch, the petitions must contain 806 or more signatures of qualified Aspen voters in order to get the question on the ballot.

She said the deadline for getting the completed petitions into her office is Aug. 10.

Evans, who is not an Aspen resident, will not be working directly on the campaign to gather signatures for the city ballot question. But he said the petitions will be available at the Aspen post office starting this Friday.

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