Rapid bus system inches forward | AspenTimes.com

Rapid bus system inches forward

Janet Urquhart

A federal transportation bill approved by a House-Senate conference committee Thursday earmarks $128 million for a bus/rapid-transit system in the Roaring Fork Valley.The six-year bill authorizes more than $448 million for mass transit projects in Colorado.”This represents an increase of 162 percent over what was provided to Colorado in the formula funding of the previous transportation authorization bill, TEA-21,” said Sen. Wayne Allard in a press release. The Colorado Republican was a member of the committee that ironed out differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.The bill is expected to go before the full House and Senate this week and could be on President Bush’s desk by the weekend, according to Dan Blankenship, CEO of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority. He said he was told that action could come that quickly by a staffer in Allard’s office.There are still many steps to come before RFTA receives any federal dollars for bus/rapid-transit, or BRT. The authorization bill makes the BRT system eligible for federal funding; an actual appropriation will require future congressional approval, Blankenship said.”It does make it easier to get an appropriation,” he added. “RFTA has been working for about three years to get an earmark in this bill. We’re excited about it.”Blankenship credited Allard’s efforts. RFTA also employs a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., to further its interests.RFTA, which operates the valley’s bus system, is currently analyzing alternatives for a BRT system. The next step may be preliminary engineering to further define the costs, according to Blankenship.The $178 million is the estimated total cost of the system, to be split between the federal government and a local match. Of the $64 million in local funds, RFTA is hoping half will come from the state.As proposed, the BRT would create a speedier bus system running on the Highway 82 corridor. It would feature upgraded buses, with low floors and wider doors for quicker loading and unloading, as well as a fare system that wouldn’t cause delays.The BRT buses would make fewer stops, and drivers would have the ability to pre-empt traffic signals – to keep the light green, for example, until the bus passed through an intersection. Another envisioned element is running direct buses that load up in Carbondale and Basalt and then travel directly to Aspen without any other stops.”The goal being to dramatically reduce the time it takes to get from point A to point B,” Blankenship said.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com