RFTA hits snag with midvalley expansion plan
BASALT – A key part of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s expansion plan in the midvalley is in danger of not getting completed in time next year because it submitted plans that Basalt officials deemed half-baked.
Members of the Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission told RFTA representatives Tuesday night they need a plan with more details before they would be willing to recommend approval. The Planning Commission is an advisory board for the Basalt Town Council.
Some Planning Commission members also said they were concerned that RFTA’s proposed park-and-ride lot will have too adverse of an impact on Sopris Village, an adjacent subdivision.
The 82-space parking lot is proposed in the vacant lot where Mermaids restaurant used to be just west of the Movieland building. Seven residents of the neighborhood spoke out against RFTA’s plan at the Planning Commission hearing, and other residents of the area turned out to observe.
Michael Meiners, president of the homeowners’ association, said RFTA hasn’t done enough to prevent traffic from driving through Sopris Village, an older subdivision. Extra traffic is a dangerous mix with existing conditions such as numerous young families with kids playing outside, lack of sidewalks and narrow streets, Meiners said.
The parking lot will have ingress and egress to both Sopris Village Drive and Valley Road. Meiners asked the Planning Commission to require RFTA to make improvements to Sopris Village Drive that will prevent traffic from turning left into the subdivision.
“You know what they offer us? Yellow striping to prevent people from turning left into our neighborhood. I think they can try a little harder,” Meiners said. Motorists will ignore the proposed yellow striping and signs, he said.
Other concerns expressed by residents of the subdivision included contamination of the subdivision’s well, located a short distance from the parking lot, degradation of air quality from idling buses and general disruption of quality of life.
Angela Kincade, assistant project manager of the bus-rapid-transit expansion for RFTA, said the park-and-ride lot is a vital part of the plan. RFTA will stop leasing land in the heart of El Jebel from the Crawford family for use as a parking lot. Buses on the bus-rapid-transit system will stay strictly on Highway 82 with few exceptions, she said. The parking lot near the main El Jebel intersection is needed so commuters have a convenient place to park. In addition to the 82 spaces there, another 50 overflow spaces are available a short distance away at the Eagle County Community Center. A fancier, more inviting bus stop will be constructed on Highway 82.
By providing more buses that will take more direct routes into Aspen and by providing modern bus stops, RFTA hopes to attract more riders and reduce private vehicles on the highway.
RFTA officials hope to receive approvals and a building permit from Basalt for the parking lot no later than April 1 so their contractor can be finished by Aug. 1. There is extra incentive for RFTA to finish no later than September. The Federal Transit Administration awarded a $25 million grant for the expansion, so agency officials are looking over RFTA’s shoulder to make sure the project is completed on time.
RFTA’s project has faced smooth sailing if not outright indifference, for the most part. Sopris Village residents mounted the only organized opposition to any component.
RFTA’s proposal for the park-and-ride lot is somewhat in flux because the location of parking spaces and an access road will be influenced by Eagle County’s decision on improving a nearby intersection. Planning for that project is in the early stages, so RFTA had to provide a conditional proposal for its parking lot.
Several members of the Basalt Planning Commission said they didn’t like voting on a project that wasn’t set in stone. Planning Commission member Dylan Johns said the application leaves him in a “troubled state” because of a lack of details. In addition, he said he didn’t think RFTA had adequately addressed the traffic concerns of Sopris Village.
Planning Commission member Gary Wheeler said he would like to see RFTA pay to monitor the well at Sopris Village to make sure the addition of the parking lot doesn’t affect water quality.
Planning Commission member Chris Touchette said RFTA was leaving too many unanswered questions considering that the “continued livability” of the neighborhood is possibly at stake.
“It’s being push far without addressing fatal flaws,” Touchette said of the plan.
Several members stated bluntly that they will have trouble recommending approval of the project in its current state. Commission Chairman Bernie Grauer advised Kincade and her colleagues to be prepared to answer the concerns when the hearing resumes on Feb. 5.
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