RFTA gets to nuts and bolts of expansion plan | AspenTimes.com

RFTA gets to nuts and bolts of expansion plan

Scott CondonThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

CARBONDALE – Voters supported a sales tax hike in November 2008 to fund a massive expansion of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority. Now it’s time to see if they support the nuts and bolts of the plan.RFTA in February will unveil where it wants to place new bus stations, what they will look like and, in some cases, how new parking spaces will be needed for them.Although there hasn’t been much of a public process, RFTA staff members and consultants have worked feverishly since the election on the $50 million bus rapid transit plan, also known as “RFTA on steroids.” Recently they have met with planning staffs of the towns and counties from Aspen to Glenwood Springs to work on plans for the bus stations.The proposals will be “hopefully something that’s not totally outlandish or unacceptable for the communities,” RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship said Thursday.Full details on all of the stations aren’t available yet, but they should be prepared by the time a series of public meetings are held Feb. 16-22.In some cases, most of the details are known. Rubey Park in Aspen will continue to be used as a major station for the bus rapid transit, or BRT. Extensive work will also be done at the intercept lot at the intersection of Highway 82 and Brush Creek Road. Ample parking already exists there, and it’s a major crossroads for the bus system even though there is no bus station.In other areas, RFTA has significant hurdles to cross. A BRT station is planned at Willits, but the private project is dead in the water. Developer Joseph Freed & Associates must meet financial obligations, such as partial funding of an underpass of Highway 82, for the BRT station. The developer and RFTA have talked about the transit agency buying some of the parking spaces that were built in anticipation of a Whole Foods supermarket, construction of which stalled after only the parking garage was built.RFTA faces an even bigger challenge in El Jebel. Its lease on the Crawford family land for a parking lot and bus stop by El Jebowl is expiring. The agency is scrambling to find an alternative site, but that could mean developing more parking spaces in an area that already is a sea of concrete.Other major stations will be at the Aspen Business Center and Buttermilk, as well as in Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.RFTA has an ambitious plan to construct the stations in 2011, expand its bus fleet and workforce in 2012, then start expanded service the same year. The concept behind BRT is to make riding the bus more convenient and to add direct service to make it faster. Officials want the transit system to be more attractive than personal vehicles.On Thursday in Carbondale, members of RFTA’s board of directors said the public must be given ample opportunity to weigh in on the expansion plan. RFTA board chair Bruce Christensen, the mayor of Glenwood Springs, said residents clearly have questions about the station design and location. He indicated that each station will look similar.”We’re trying to brand something, but we’re also trying to be sensitive to the communities,” Christensen said.RFTA board member and Pitkin County Commissioner Michael Owsley wants to include the public as often as possible in the planning, beyond the legal requirements for public hearings. The station plans shouldn’t be a fati accompli, he said. “What we’re really talking about is the opportunity for the public to be informed and to be engaged.”The first round of public input meetings will be:• Tuesday, Feb. 16, from noon until 1 p.m. and again from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Glenwood Springs Recreation Center.• Wednesday, Feb. 17, from noon to 1 p.m. at the Rio Grande Room near the Pitkin County Courthouse and from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Aspen campus of Colorado Mountain College.• Thursday, Feb. 18, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the new Basalt library.• Monday, Feb. 22, from noon to 1 p.m. at the Carbondale Recreation Center.Individual towns as well as Pitkin and Eagle counties will likely conduct land-use reviews on the new station proposals after RFTA prepares applications.scondon@aspentimes.com

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