RFTA: Part of bus expansion could face delay
September 9, 2011
CARBONDALE – The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority is hedging on whether its $46 million bus system expansion will be fully completed as planned by fall 2013.
The same local land-use review process that produces howls of protest from private sector developers is now creating headaches for RFTA. Mike Hermes, RFTA’s project manager, reported to the board of directors Thursday that it is taking “significantly more time and effort” to obtain approvals for three enhanced bus stations. The complexity of the federal land acquisition process is also slowing the project.
“All further delays at this point significantly jeopardize RFTA’s ability to open the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system in fall 2013 as scheduled,” Hermes wrote in a memo to the board.
RFTA received a $25 million federal grant for the project and voters in the Roaring Fork Valley and New Castle approved $21 million in sales taxes dedicated to the expansion. The BRT project will add 18 new buses, add direct routes for quicker travel within the valley, add modern bus stops and make a number of small steps designed to make bus travel times and convenience competitive with private vehicles.
Hermes told the board, meeting in Carbondale, he plans to put the majority of the project out for bid in November so that construction can start in spring 2012. Critical components that haven’t been approved yet will have to be put out for a later, separate bid, he said.
One area where RFTA’s plan has stalled is at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport and the Aspen Airport Business Center. RFTA “has already expended a great deal of money, time and effort designing the BRT stations to take advantage of existing site conditions, traffic signals and pedestrian facilities,” Hermes wrote.
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But Pitkin County is working on an airport master plan that could shift the terminal and change pedestrian patterns between the airport and Airport Business Center. If so, RFTA’s bus station would be poorly situated and raise pedestrian safety issues, according to Hermes.
RFTA might delay construction of the airport and business center bus stations until the county completes its planning for the new terminal, Hermes said. If the site for the stations change, he is concerned about where RFTA will find the funds to rework the design.
Land-use approval hurdles also plague the bus stations at El Jebel and at Willits Town Center. In addition, RFTA is navigating through a myriad of federal rules to acquire property for bus stations, parking lots or both in Glenwood Springs, El Jebel and Basalt.
In contrast to the gloomy outlook in his memo, Hermes verbally expressed optimism to the board about the prospects for the project’s timely completion.
“I think we’re going to make it, but it’s going to be real close,” he said of the fall 2013 goal.