RFRHA says rail should bypass Woody Creek
Setting aside the will of a citizens’ task force and ignoring warnings from a senior highway engineer about high costs, the Roaring Fork Railroad Holding Authority decided Wednesday to divert the proposed rail route away from Woody Creek.
By a 6-3 vote, the holding authority’s policy committee agreed that if a valley railroad is built, it should cross the Roaring Fork River at Gerbazdale instead of at Brush Creek. The vote overturned a 10-8 vote by a group of 18 upper valley residents who had spent the better part of a year looking into the question of where a train should cross the river.
The policy committee’s action begins the next round of study on public transportation in the valley. The costs and impacts of developing a commuter rail will be compared to those of beefing up the existing bus system or not spending any more money on public transportation.
Instead of crossing the river near Brush Creek, designs for the proposed rail line will now cross the river between the Stutsman-Gerbaz garage and the Waterview apartments. The task force recommended building a bridge upstream from the commercial zone and trailer park in Woody Creek.
Upper valley task force member Charlie Tarver pleaded yesterday with the policy committee to respect the earlier vote. He said the vote was based on likely development scenarios and financial and environmental costs.
Tarver pointed out that county zoning allows for more development on the Woody Creek side of the river. Considering the Woody Creek trailer park, existing development at W/J Ranch and zoning for affordable housing in that area, the task force decided it made more sense to run the train up the historical rail corridor into Woody Creek.
He said the majority on the task force also thought the environmental and financial costs of building retaining walls along the river’s riparian zone and along the highway to support the rail bed were too high. Colorado Department of Transportation senior engineer Ralph Trapani agreed.
“I still think maintaining the right of way through Woody Creek makes the most sense,” Trapani said.
He questioned estimates that the costs of the two options were about the same. One of the three policy committee members to vote against overturning the task force recommendation, Trapani said the costs of running rail along Highway 82 could be much greater.
But for various reasons, his fellow committee members didn’t think the Woody Creek option made sense.
John Starr, who also sits on the county’s Open Space and Trails Board, said he prefers preserving the Woody Creek side so the county can develop a “world-class trail experience” between Aspen and Basalt. Starr is also a co-owner of The Aspen Times.
Jim Markalunas, an Aspen city councilman, favored crossing the river at Gerbazdale because it means potentially fewer conflicts between cars and trains.
The other four who voted to overturn the recommendation said they thought it made more sense to develop along the highway, instead of developing a new transportation corridor on the other side of the river.
The policy committee’s decision is final. The holding authority and its consultants are expected to complete environmental impact studies comparing the three options by the end of June.
It has been promised that voters will eventually have the final say over what should be done.
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