RFTA board struggles to a couple of rail decisions | AspenTimes.com

RFTA board struggles to a couple of rail decisions

Nobody said running a regional government agency was going to be easy – and for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, nothing is easy.After two hours of debate that sometimes got as disjointed and trippy as a Cheech and Chong skit, the RFTA board of directors reached a startling discovery yesterday regarding a trail project in the railroad corridor between Carbondale and the Catherine Bridge.The board decided the best approach would be to stick to the policy they already had in place. So, the RFTA staff was directed to build a pedestrian trail in the railroad corridor but off the rail bed whenever possible along the nearly three-mile stretch.The board upheld its policy of allowing the trail to be built on the rail bed to avoid wetlands elsewhere in the corridor. The rail bed will be used for 6,900 linear feet.During the debate, the board wandered onto tangents about broader policy of tearing up old railroad track or paving over the track along the entire railroad corridor. RFTA staffers kept reeling the board back and emphasizing the importance of giving specific direction just on the Carbondale-to-Catherine stretch. Trail work is scheduled on that stretch in summer 2005.”Requests for proposals (to contractors) need to go out in the next two months or we’re not going to get on anyone’s construction schedule,” said Mike Hermes, RFTA’s director of trails and lands.RFTA’s board of directors sometimes collectively resembles an elementary school student with a short attention span because it’s made up of elected officials from towns and counties throughout the Roaring Fork Valley as well as New Castle. Their constituencies are more diverse than a board representing one town. RFTA representatives are often wary of taking a strong position on an issue without first checking with their council or commission.The RFTA directors were able to overcome those hurdles to plot a new course of action when it came to trail work between Catherine Bridge and the Hooks area near Basalt. The board gave the RFTA staff permission to tear up the railroad track and ties along that four-mile stretch. That goes against RFTA’s established policy.The directors reasoned that the track and rail bed wouldn’t be needed in that area because the proposed route of a commuter train shifts to the highway corridor at that stretch. In addition, wetlands and pinch points on the corridor would require the rail bed to be used about 90 percent of the time anyway. The track will be torn up along 24,200 linear feet.Hermes said the trail work along the Catherine-to-Hooks stretch could be at least partially completed in 2005. The Carbondale to Catherine work is scheduled to be completed this year.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com

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