Rail? Nah | AspenTimes.com

Rail? Nah

Allyn Harvey

In a recently completed survey of valley residents, nearly two-thirds said they would rather not see any additional improvements to the transit system – either in the form of beefed-up bus service or a commuter rail.

The survey, conducted for the Roaring Fork Railroad Holding Authority, could signal the fate of a valleywide rail system, which will need voter authorization for its funding. But even if the numbers portend the death of rail, one of the concept’s most vocal opponents isn’t proclaiming victory, yet.

“I don’t know how much weight you can give a survey of 403 valley residents with a margin of error of 10 percent,” said Common Sense Alliance spokesman Jeffrey Evans.

The reluctance to spend more money on transit comes in spite of the fact that an overwhelming 90 percent of the respondents rated traffic congestion as a “major” or “moderate” problem facing the valley in the next 10 years. Growth was identified as a looming problem by 81 percent; and traffic safety was identified as a major or moderate problem by 79 percent of the respondents.

“I’m disappointed that more people don’t see what’s coming,” said holding authority board member Dorothea Farris, “I’ve been out of town for 10 days and I sat in traffic for most of them.”

The survey respondents seemed fully aware of what lies ahead, however. Sixty-seven percent said they expect traffic to increase by a significant amount in the next 10 years; 64 percent expect growth to increase by a significant amount in the same period.

A large majority – 87 percent – agreed with the statement that buses are “an important investment for the community,” but when asked what could be done to increase bus ridership, 39 percent said, “nothing.”

Although two-thirds of those surveyed weren’t willing spend any more money on transit, 55 percent said they would be more likely to ride the bus if it were somehow improved.

The idea of building a commuter train between Glenwood Springs and Aspen was met with similar skepticism, especially from long-term residents. While 75 percent of those who moved to the valley in the last 10 years said they were likely to ride a train to work, only 42 percent of people who have been here 10 years or more said they would take a train. In all, 53 percent of those surveyed said they were “somewhat likely” or “very likely” to use a rail system if it is built.

In his analysis of the results, holding authority director Tom Newland said people were struggling over their concern for the environment, their frustration with traffic congestion, and their worries about taxes.

“We need to do a lot more to communicate how transit currently plays an important role in reducing traffic congestion, and will be critical for managing congestion in the future,” he wrote in a memo to the organization’s board of directors.

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