RFTA plan for El Jebel, elsewhere hit snags
ASPEN – The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority is preparing to move ahead with an aggressive expansion plan without constructing a park-and-ride lot in El Jebel, one of its busiest transit hubs.
The agency still plans to build enhanced bus stations on both sides of Highway 82 at El Jebel as part of its Bus Rapid Transit expansion, project manager Mike Hermes said. But plans for a 125-vehicle park-and-ride lot at the former Cilantro-Mermaids restaurant site on the south side of the main El Jebel intersection are unraveling.
The primary problem, Hermes told RFTA’s board of directors Thursday, is the planning process under way to improve traffic flow and circulation along Valley Road. The frontage road provides access to the Movieland and City Market complex as well as the Eagle County Community Building. An indoor recreation center is also planned for the area. Eagle County is working on a plan that will likely include extensive changes to the roads in the area and will ask RFTA to help pay for the improvements.
The time and funds required to plan and construct the road improvements threaten to make the construction of a park-and-ride not feasible, according to Hermes.
“RFTA is preparing for a decision to abandon the proposed El Jebel Park and Ride Lot project altogether and potentially apply the funds that would have been used for this project to other (Bus Rapid Transit) projects elements, such as the compressed natural gas fueling station and building modifications,” Hermes wrote in a memo to the RFTA board.
Board members asked whether failure to build all components of the project will force the Federal Transit Administration to withdraw a $25 million grant it awarded RFTA.
“I don’t think the feds are going to do that,” said RFTA Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship. The agency “may not be happy with us,” he acknowledged. “It may have some implications for future projects.”
The Bus Rapid Transit system is supposed to be completed by September 2013. In some areas, there is progress. RFTA is ordering 18 buses for the expanded system. It will decide in March whether to order buses that run on clean diesel fuel or compressed natural gas.
Other components of the project are getting bogged down:
• Land acquisition for a bus station and parking at 27th Street in Glenwood Springs is taking longer than anticipated. The transit center there is pivotal to the expansion plan because Glenwood’s in-town buses will drop off commuters heading to points farther up the Roaring Fork Valley.
• There is a funding shortfall to build bus stations at Willits, near the site where Whole Foods Market will open next summer. The plan includes a pedestrian underpass on Highway 82. Private developers were going to supply the bulk of the funds, but one of the projects is on hold.
• Plans for bus stations at the Aspen Airport Business Center are in limbo because additional planning is required on a pedestrian underpass or overpass on Highway 82 between the center and the airport. The location for the pedestrian route also needs to be determined.
Regarding the El Jebel site, Hermes downplayed the significance of not building the 125-vehicle park-and-ride. The bus stations there depend heavily on foot traffic from surrounding neighborhoods, he said.
RFTA currently leases land on the north side of Highway 82 from the Crawford family and uses it as a parking lot and bus stop. RFTA is on a month-to-month lease, but members of the Crawford family have indicated the site is available long-term. That parking is heavily used for commuters who catch commuter buses, but it wouldn’t be an option for riders who want to catch buses at the new stations.
On the south side of Highway 82, Eagle County Commissioner Sara Fisher has urged a coordinated approach to parking for RFTA, the county government building and the proposed recreation center.
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