RFTA reps in D.C. for honor | AspenTimes.com

RFTA reps in D.C. for honor

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

Jacque Whitsitt

Representatives of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority are in Washington, D.C., Tuesday morning for a Champions of Change ceremony that can be viewed live at http://www.whitehouse.gov/live at 9 a.m. local time.

The local transit agency was chosen as a White House Champion of Change Transportation Innovator for its planned bus rapid transit system, dubbed VelociRFTA, the first rural system of its kind in the nation, according to Dan Blankenship, RFTA CEO.

The agency, which put itself forward as a nominee, is one of about 15 that will receive the honor for transportation initiatives. The Champion of Change program was created as part of President Obama’s Winning the Future initiative. Each week, a different sector is highlighted and champions are recognized for the work they’re doing to serve and strengthen their communities.

RFTA is funding the trip to Washington for its representatives. Attending are Blankenship and Dawn Chase, RFTA communications director, along with several members of the RFTA board of directors – Jacque Whitsitt, Basalt mayor; Steve Skadron, Aspen City Council member; John Wilkinson, Snowmass Village Town Council member and Ted Edmonds, a Glenwood Springs city councilman.

Whitsitt, a longtime RFTA board member who spearheaded a 2008 election campaign that led to local approval of a tax measure to help fund VelociRFTA, will participate on a panel along with other recipients of the honor.

Whitsitt, in a telephone interview Monday from Chicago, where she was stopped en route to D.C., said she anticipates discussing the VelociRFTA initiative and admitted she was “a little nervous.”

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She said she’d been advised she wouldn’t be expected to make prepared remarks, though, which put Whitsitt more at ease.

“My forte is speaking from the heart, so that’ll be OK,” she said.

The ceremony will be in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next door to the White House, Blankenship said. Attendees have been told Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and others will be in attendance. LaHood was in Carbondale earlier this month, attending a groundbreaking ceremony for VelociRFTA.

“You’re a model for cooperation, for putting your friends to work and for putting together the first rural bus rapid transit system in the country,” he said at the event, calling the system “a good use of taxpayer money.”

LaHood was also taking part in panel discussions about the future of mass transit at the Aspen Ideas Festival during his visit.

The $42.6 million VelociRFTA, to debut in fall 2013, is a rubber-tired transit system that has been compared to commuter train service, offering streamlined travel on the Highway 82 corridor with buses that run on compressed natural gas. The system will offer a host of technological upgrades. Station construction for the system is now under way.

RFTA received a $24.9 million federal grant last year for the system and recently learned it would receive another $6.4 million in grants this year for bus purchases and a facility upgrade.

“I think one of the reasons we’re getting the grants is we’re proving we can manage these projects and also that there’s a lot of community support for what we do,” said Blankenship, who has been at the RFTA helm for 23 years. “It’s an honor to receive recognition from the higher levels of our government for being a transportation innovator.”

janet@aspentimes.com

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