RFTA could get funds for new buses | AspenTimes.com

RFTA could get funds for new buses

Carolyn SackariasonAspen, CO Colorado

If Colorado’s economy remains robust, the valley’s bus agency may experience a multimillion-dollar windfall.Transportation officials are confident that the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority will receive $5.9 million in state funding to go toward the purchase of 11 new buses for a proposed Bus Rapid Transit program.Colorado’s Senate Bill 1 allows for state surpluses to go toward transit needs throughout the state and RFTA’s request recently has been bumped up in priority. If the estimated $65 million in revenue comes in, it’s likely RFTA will get a piece of it.RFTA executive director Dan Blankenship said when the agency applied for the funding in 2006, the request was placed on the bottom of the list of priorities. But because the state economy has been so strong, it’s believed that more funds will be available and RFTA will be seen as a transit priority.”If revenues for SB 1 exceed the forecast, we’ll get the money,” Blankenship said, adding the funding will come in over five years. “It’s likely at this point that we’ll receive some funding.”The volatility of the market and how the Legislature ultimately decides to spend the surplus are still unknowns but the fact that RFTA has moved up in priority is a good sign, transportation officials said.”[RFTA] managed to get on the eligible list,” said Tom Mauser, modal programs coordinator for the Colorado Department of Transportation, who sat on the strategic transit task force for SB 1 funding.The buses that RFTA will most likely purchase hold 54 passengers and will be part of the BRT system, which is currently in the planning stages and is designed to make mass transit faster.The BRT system is a regional transportation system that would offer bypass lanes, traffic signal priority and more transit stations. Buses would have the technology to provide real time information for riders so they know exactly how many minutes it will be before the next bus arrives. The buses would have electronic fare systems, surveillance cameras and wireless capabilities for passengers.By 2008, RFTA will have 11 hybrid, low-floor buses in operation. RFTA’s plan is to have all of its buses be environmentally friendly and low enough to the ground that they meet disabilities standards.Transit oriented development – creating neighborhoods around transit centers – is a large part of the BRT system. Transportation officials are working with local communities in planning transit operations and facilities around new development.A key component of the plan is to preserve right-of-ways for future bus stations and park-and-ride facilities.The RFTA board voted last year to have the BRT in place by 2017 and is currently working with local governments from Aspen to Rifle in making the vision a reality.How to pay for the system remains a larger issue. Officials plan to go after federal funds and possibly expand local funding, which could be asked of voters on a November 2008 ballot question.