RFTA backs straight shot | AspenTimes.com

RFTA backs straight shot

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority board of directors voted Monday to endorse the state’s plan for a direct route into Aspen.

The vote for the preferred alternative of the 1998 Entrance to Aspen Record of Decision puts the transit board on the record as supporting the modified direct alignment over the existing S-curves.

Voters in Pitkin County and Aspen will be asked an advisory question on the Nov. 5 ballot as to which alignment they prefer.

After hearing RFTA board chair and Snowmass Village Mayor T. Michael Manchester read a synopsis of the preferred alternative, and after listening to S-curve supporters argue against the new alignment, six of the seven-member board voted to endorse the alternative. One member, Susan Darrow from Carbondale, abstained from voting.

The Colorado Department of Transportation’s Record of Decision on the entrance states “the Preferred Alternative is a combination of highway and intersection improvements, a transit system, and an incremental transportation management program.

“The highway component will consist of a two-lane parkway that generally follows the existing alignment, except at the Maroon Creek crossing and across the Marolt-Thomas property.

“The highway alignment at Maroon Creek will be north of the existing crossing with the light rail transit (LRT) alignment on the existing bridge. The Modified Direct Alignment … is across the Marolt-Thomas property. A connection to Main Street occurs at 7th Street.

“The transit component includes a light rail transit system, that, if local support and/or funding are not available, will be developed initially as exclusive bus lanes. The transit platform (which will follow the proposed highway alignment) is of adequate width to allow the exclusive bus lanes to continue in operation during the construction of the LRT.”

After hearing the preferred alternative read aloud, board member Jackie Whitsitt from Basalt moved that the board endorse the alternative. Michael Gallagher, representing Eagle County, seconded the motion.

Helen Klanderud, the mayor of Aspen, said she was personally against using the modified direct alignment but said she would vote in favor of it because it represented the will of three of the five members of the current Aspen City Council.

Shellie Roy, a Pitkin County commissioner, spoke out in favor of endorsing the alternative.

Dan Richardson, representing the Glenwood Springs City Council, did not support discussing the issue, but did ultimately vote with the majority.

Darrow, representing the Carbondale Board of Trustees, said her board voted 5-2 before the meeting to abstain from taking a position on the entrance.

“We don’t think we should be mucking around in Aspen politics,” Darrow said before voting to abstain. The motion passed with six members voting to support it and no one voting against it.

Three opponents of using the modified direct alignment, Bert Myrin, Lenir Drake and Aspen City Councilman Terry Paulson, attended the RFTA meeting.

Myrin argued that moving Highway 82 to a new alignment would make it easier for cars to get into Aspen and therefore would make mass transit less attractive as an alternative.

Paulson questioned whether RFTA should be making an endorsement at all, telling the board, “You guys should just stay out of this.”

And Drake questioned whether RFTA would benefit from a new alignment.

“I don’t see where this is going to bring any improvement to RFTA,” Drake said.

Before the board’s vote, there was a discussion as to whether it was appropriate for RFTA to take a stance on the Entrance to Aspen, as the regional organization has been reluctant to be seen as meddling in any one jurisdiction’s affairs.

The regional transportation authority is funded in part by taxes levied in Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, Pitkin County and Eagle County. The organization provides transit service from Rifle to Aspen.

Dave Sturges of Glenwood Springs, a member of RFTA’s citizen advisory board, said it was important the board speak out in a regional context.

“It is indeed the responsibility of RFTA to speak on any transit issue in the valley, as uncomfortable as it may be,” he said. “I would urge you to consider your responsibility as a regional body and not just as a collection of individual jurisdictions. This is actually sort of a watershed for the RFTA board.”

During Monday’s special meeting, the RFTA board did not specifically discuss or endorse a position paper developed by RFTA staff that listed a variety of reasons to support the modified direct, or straight shot, alignment, which would run across 2.3 acres of the Thomas property and 2.1 acres of the Marolt property between the Maroon Creek roundabout and 7th and Main streets in Aspen.

RFTA’s position paper said using the modified direct alignment would improve transit travel times, reduce operational costs, make transit more attractive to riders, enhance safety and preserve the option to build a light rail system.

In addition, RFTA staff said the direct alignment was consistent with the agency’s long-range planning, and that it would make it easier to attract state and federal funding.

“To realize the Aspen community goal of maintaining traffic volumes at 1994 levels, over the long term, RFTA must achieve the transit travel time advantages needed to maximize ridership and minimize costs,” the position paper states.

“The Entrance to Aspen Preferred Alternative ? utilizing the Modified Direct Alignment ? will significantly enhance transit operations in the upper Roaring Fork Valley and improve transit travel times between Aspen and other communities in the region.

“Reduced travel times, in turn, will make transit more reliable, convenient and attractive for users, and reduce RFTA’s operations, maintenance and capital costs in the years ahead.”

[Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is bgs@aspentimes.com]

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