RFTA says it didnt know trail would cost so much | AspenTimes.com

RFTA says it didnt know trail would cost so much

During the November election campaign, Roaring Fork Valley voters were told that approval of a sales tax increase would allow completion of a valleywide pedestrian trail by 2010.Now the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority says it is $3.2 million short, even though the tax hike was approved.RFTA’s latest estimates indicate it will cost $8.55 million to build the trail from the Hooks area of Basalt to Glenwood Springs. The agency forecasts only $5.35 million in revenues. It will have to raise an additional $533,000 annually for six years to meet its construction goal.RFTA’s ability to construct the trail by the 2010 goal was a campaign issue. Trail proponents wanted ballot wording that dedicated a specific amount to trail construction. RFTA’s board of directors resisted the pressure and said trail proponents needed to trust them.The head of RFTA insisted yesterday that voters weren’t the victim of a bait-and-switch maneuver.”When we went to the election, we were still working on construction plans,” said RFTA Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship. “We used the best numbers we had available.”All the additional revenues from the sales tax hike that were promised to the trail will be used for the trail, Blankenship said. The problem is the estimated cost of the trail is higher than anticipated.A detailed analysis of construction costs wasn’t completed until after the election.Prior estimates assumed it would cost about $50 per foot to build the trail. That estimate was based on Pitkin County’s and Eagle County’s experience in trail construction in the late 1990s, according to Mike Hermes, RFTA’s director of trails and lands. Updated figures project a cost of $67 per foot, he said.Hermes said the $8.55 million estimate is essentially a worst-case or most expensive scenario. RFTA wanted to be cautious with its projection. The trail could come in cheaper, he said.Hermes said he always assumed that up to 20 percent of the financing for the trail work would have to come through grants. At this point, however, RFTA is short 37 percent of the total cost of the trail.When studying costs, the agency performed a thorough analysis to determine where the old railroad bed would have to be used and where the trail could be built elsewhere in the corridor. The current policy of the RFTA board of directors is to allow the trail to be constructed on the rail bed only when geographic hurdles like pinch points and wetlands would make trail construction too expensive elsewhere in the corridor.RFTA’s study concluded the rail bed would have to be used 45 percent of the time between Hooks and Glenwood Springs under that policy. However, the policy is constantly being reconsidered. Blankenship has recommended tearing up and selling the track, and building the trail completely on the rail bed. That would reduce the construction cost and raise additional revenues. But RFTA is also under pressure to preserve the rail corridor and keep the trail off the rail bed.Blankenship said completing the trail by 2010 is “doable” if the policy remains the same and the cost is $8.55 million, but he acknowledged the chances are “marginal.”Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com

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