RFTA in the running for $25 million grant | AspenTimes.com

RFTA in the running for $25 million grant

ASPEN ” The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority cleared an important first hurdle this month in securing a $25 million federal grant to improve the public bus system.

The Federal Transit Administration notified RFTA in a letter this month that its proposed expansion project qualifies for funds in a special program. The federal agency authorized RFTA to advance to the next stage of planning, at the fed’s expense. No funds were awarded, but the decision keeps RFTA in the running.

“I think it’s good news. All the board members that responded to it said ‘great,'” said RFTA Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship. In short, he said, the letter means the Federal Transit Administration feels RFTA has “a legitimate project.”

“It’s also sobering because we have a tremendous amount of work to do,” Blankenship said, referring to the next step in the planning process. That includes a construction management plan to show the project can come in on time and on budget.

RFTA is planning an extensive upgrade of its system between Aspen and Glenwood Springs along Highway 82. It will provide more buses and more inviting bus stops. Perks ranging from real-time information on bus locations at the stops to additional bus lanes will be designed to reduce travel time and make the bus more competitive with private vehicles. The expansion project is dubbed Bus Rapid Transit.

Regional voters approved a sales tax increase in November for RFTA’s expansion and $44.55 million in bonding authority, although not all of those funds are technically for bus rapid transit. Local approval of that funding helped secure a better rating for the expansion plan from the Federal Transit Administration.

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“The project has been rated medium for transit supportive land use and cost effectiveness, and medium-high for local financial commitment, resulting in an overall project rating of medium-high,” the Federal Transit letter said. That rating will be a critical measure in the final federal review.

While optimistic about the development, Blankenship sounded a note of caution. Approval to advance to the next step doesn’t guarantee RFTA will get the grant, he said. It could take up to one year before the final decision is made on the grant request.