RFTA gets boost from upper-valley officials | AspenTimes.com

RFTA gets boost from upper-valley officials

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Upper-valley governments rode to the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s rescue Friday, agreeing to spend $238,000 to stave off significant reductions in valleywide bus service.

With the money, RFTA will be able to keep late-night and early morning runs and continue servicing rural, low-ridership areas such as Woody Creek. It also appears the popular Hogback Route between Glenwood Springs and Rifle will be spared.

RFTA’s preliminary 2004 budget called for a wide range of service reductions meant to bring operating costs in line with revenues, which come primarily from dedicated sales taxes and fares. Except for Aspen’s free in-city service, the planned cuts would have affected every route.

“We tried to do it as equitably as possible with the least amount of cuts in terms of passenger service,” Dan Blankenship, RFTA’s chief executive officer, explained.

The financial support is coming from the portion of Pitkin County’s half-cent transit sales tax controlled by the three governments, Aspen, Snowmass Village and the county, that make up the Elected Officials Transportation Committee.

Currently, about half the revenues collected from the tax already go to RFTA. The half controlled by the upper-valley governments is meant for capital projects, such as transit centers, a parking lot for Snowmass Village and, possibly, design work for a new highway bridge across Maroon Creek.

Elected officials made it clear at Friday’s emergency meeting of the transportation committee that they were uncomfortable about giving RFTA money out of their capital fund to cover operating expenses.

Arnie Mordkin, a Snowmass Village town councilman, reminded the board that it made a similar contribution to RFTA’s operating budget last year, and at the time they scolded RFTA.

“We told them they have to get their house in order – and it still has to happen,” he said. But as one of two Snowmass Village representatives on the RFTA board of directors, Mordkin added, “It’s being done. RFTA’s moving forward.”

RFTA, a regional transportation authority, relies on tax support from several communities. The agency has only been around since 2000, when voters throughout the valley agreed to shift existing sales tax revenues or authorize a new sales tax to support regional bus service.

The agency has had trouble covering its operating expenses for the past two years as it has expanded service, as promised in the 2000 election, and sales tax collections and ridership in some areas have been hammered by the economy.

Last year, the EOTC committed about $500,000 to cover both capital and operating expenses at RFTA.

Although there had been talk among elected officials about eliminating service between Glenwood Springs and Rifle, the idea wasn’t given serious consideration at Friday’s meeting. The general consensus among the 13 or 14 officials present was that it is important to keep RFTA whole and look for new ways to boost its revenues.

“I want the public to see us moving forward, not backward,” said Aspen City Councilwoman Rachel Richards.

Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is aharvey@aspentimes.com

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