RFTA presents possible future of valley transit | AspenTimes.com

RFTA presents possible future of valley transit

A roomful of Aspenites was shown just how rosy the future might be with a new and improved mass-transit option that was presented Thursday.

The Roaring Fork Transit Authority officials have been presenting their plan for a “bus rapid transit” system to valley residents this week. They came to Aspen City Hall yesterday with a presentation that included a summary of the recently completed corridor investment study, which began in 1998.

Bus Rapid Transit is one of three choices explored in the CIS, along with the costs and benefits of a rail system in the Roaring Fork Valley or doing nothing at all besides maintaining current bus-service levels in the valley.

The plans for the BRT follow an adage dreamed up by the Federal Transportation Agency, “think rail, use buses.” This transit option would include express service every 30 minutes during the day with limited stops between major destinations, and “super express” service during peak commuting hours.

The super-express buses would be nonstop between destinations such as Basalt and Aspen. “Smart” highway technology in the valley could include exact notification of when the next bus is due to arrive at transit stations, as well as platform fare collection.

Buses serving elsewhere in the midvalley would connect to the service on Highway 82, and RFTA will investigate cleaner, more fuel-efficient buses.

A major component of the BRT proposal are transit stations throughout the valley, which would be enclosed and heated spaces with information and toilet facilities, such as Aspen’s Rubey Park.

Roger Millar, a principal with Carbondale-based OTAK, a consulting firm that has been working with RFTA on the CIS, said the new bus system may be able to reduce traffic by 9 to 11 percent in the Highway 82 corridor.

“Most projects asking for federal and state dollars are lucky if they hit a 1 percent traffic reduction,” he said. OTAK also expects transit use to double in the valley if BRT is implemented.

The estimated cost of the rapid-transit system is $102.2 million, compared to $306.6 million to build a rail system, officials said. That figure includes buying a new fleet of buses, acquiring land for new transit stations with park-and-ride lots, and all of the necessary technology.

Millar said although the money isn’t available now, RFTA would look into phasing the project one step at a time.

“People have said, `That’s cool, but what’s it going to cost?'” he said. “To me, that’s not a yes-or-no question – it’s still something we don’t know.”

Millar said the cost of the project must be weighed with the potential benefit of saving 11 minutes on the trip between Glenwood Springs and Aspen.

Fred Silver, a transportation consultant with NBI WestStart, presented a number of options for cleaner, less noisy buses, with price tags ranging from $270,000 to $3 million per bus.

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