RFTA board is rightly skeptical about rail sale
The Roaring Fork Transit Agency is correct to exercise caution in its decision about whether to sell the rails along the Rio Grande railroad corridor.The agency has come under fire for refusing a $900,000 offer from A&K Railroad Materials to remove the rusty railroad tracks and regrade the rail bed into a gravel trail.The criticism seems to have come from two camps. One is dismayed that a financially strapped agency like RFTA would pass on an offer that would add close to $1 million to its empty coffers. The other camp is made up of trail advocates who would like to see the rail bed converted to a valleywide trail.Both of these complaints are valid, as far as they go. RFTA is running at a deficit, and trail construction along the rail corridor between Emma and Glenwood Springs has been woefully inadequate. However, neither problem will be solved by this one-time cash infusion. And ripping up the tracks to sell as scrap metal may create a whole new set of problems.The Roaring Fork Railroad Holding Authority was formed by all eight valley governments in the mid-1990s to buy the old line between Glenwood Springs and Woody Creek as a transit corridor. For several years afterward, the holding authority studied the option of establishing passenger rail service between Glenwood and Aspen. Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) pitched in some money toward the purchase on the promise that a trail system would be developed alongside the rail corridor.The plan agreed upon by the eight governments in October 1996 never involved converting the rail into trail. Rather, the idea was to keep the corridor open for future transit and to build a trail alongside. That’s why, in part, management of the rail corridor was eventually handed to RFTA, the transit agency.If today’s RFTA board accepts the offer from A&K and the rail bed is converted to a trail, it will have a hard time converting the trail back to transit use – be it dedicated bus lanes or commuter rail. In short, ripping up the tracks is a lot easier than putting them back in.RFTA has been unable to build a valleywide trail for numerous reasons, none of which is a lack of available land. Trail proponents say it would be cheaper to allow use of the rail bed for a trail. In some cases the trail would have to encroach on the rail bed, but along most of the corridor a trail could be built elsewhere in the railroad right of way.Many of RFTA’s woes, including some of its trail-building problems, stem from the fact that the agency remains underfunded. Residents of unincorporated Garfield County, New Castle, Silt and Rifle all receive bus service without paying any taxes to cover the associated costs.That may change this fall if voters in some or all of those communities vote to tax themselves to pay for bus service. That and a top-to-bottom look at RFTA’s revenue and expenditures would go a lot farther toward solving the agency’s problems than the problematic proposal to convert rails to trails.
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Development in Basalt barely skipped a beat in 2020 despite the coronavirus. It’s expected to be busier next year.