Referendum 1A: The $ will go for this, but pay for that |

Referendum 1A: The $ will go for this, but pay for that

Jeremy Heiman

If Pitkin County’s Referendum 1A seems complicated, that’s because it is.

Referendum 1A asks voters to approve an additional $10.2 million for transportation projects. The money will be used to help jump-start the Entrance to Aspen project by freeing up local funds.

However, the money that would actually be raised by sale of the bonds would go to several RFTA projects and to parking, transit and road projects in Snowmass Village.

If the county gets the voters’ blessing, the $10.2 million would be added to $8.1 million in bonding the county is already authorized to sell. The repayment cost of the new bond money is not expected to exceed $14 million, say county officials.

But none of the bond money will go directly to fund the $24 million Entrance to Aspen.

The Elected Officials Transportation Committee has $5 million in surplus sales tax money that would go to RFTA and the Snowmass projects if the referendum fails. But if the bond referendum passes, that $5 million would be freed up for another purpose.

Officials hope to add the $5 million to $4.8 million the Colorado Department of Transportation will refund the county for its advance “loan” on the Maroon Creek roundabout. That gives the county almost $10 million that would be used to help entice the state to get started sooner on the entrance.

The county used a similar scheme in 1998 to help jump-start construction of the roundabout.

Of the bond proceeds, $7.5 million would be earmarked for buses, bus maintenance garages and affordable housing for RFTA employees. One bus maintenance garage would be in Carbondale. Another $1.5 million would go for safety improvements at bus stops.

The Snowmass Village transit center, which is being opposed by a citizen initiative in the village, would get $7 million. It’s a requirement of the bonding process that 10 percent of the money – $1.8 million – be kept in reserve. The cost of the bonding process is expected to eat up the remainder.

The Entrance to Aspen project includes new bridges over Maroon and Castle creeks, a tunnel under the Marolt open space, elimination of the Cemetery Lane traffic light, and removal of the S-curves in order to make a straight connection to Main Street.

Referendum 1A is favored by some because no additional taxes are necessary. Instead, the plan authorizes additional bonding capacity against existing tax collections.

Those opposed to the referendum say the county, with an existing surplus and $3 million per year from taxes, already has enough money earmarked for transportation projects.

Marketing consultant Cliff Weiss of Aspen says he opposes Referendum 1A because he believes the planned entrance will not make commuting any easier, and because the funding measure is disguised as an effort to fund RFTA.

“In fact,” Weiss said, “with five new [traffic] lights between Buttermilk and Seventh and Main, and with a dedicated busway, there will be only two lanes of traffic coming across the Entrance to Aspen.

“What a waste of money. Things aren’t going to be getting any faster.”

Though a new Maroon Creek bridge is needed, Weiss said, a new Castle Creek bridge is not. He said he believes the new alignment is designed for light rail service, and the only reason to build a new Castle Creek bridge would be to provide a bridge strong enough to support a train.

“I’m disturbed by the fact that the county is hiding this in a request for funding for RFTA,” Weiss said. “It’s all part of their original plan to give us a train.”

Pitkin County Public Works director Stan Berryman supports the referendum. “What it does,” he said, “is accelerate safety and highway capacity improvements.

“It’s similar to what we did with the roundabout, to provide some seed money and have the state come back and match our local funds.”

The county’s refund for the roundabout is now in the State Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP) and is scheduled to be paid in July, Berryman said. After the STIP is released, he said, it will be a matter of weeks before the $4.8 million is in the county’s hands.

Berryman said the county didn’t have a lot to do with the configuration of the Entrance to Aspen. The decision to adopt the two-lane parkway and either a light rail line or a dedicated busway was selected in the process of creating an environmental impact statement. The record of decision (ROD) resulting from that process took several years and cost perhaps $3 million, he said.

“The ROD is essentially the final statement of the Federal Highway Administration,” Berryman said.

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