RFTA shies away from stance on entrance issue | AspenTimes.com

RFTA shies away from stance on entrance issue

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The board of directors of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority refused Thursday to take a specific stance on the pending Entrance to Aspen questions on the city of Aspen and Pitkin County ballots.

While board members did unanimously pass a motion “to support alternatives that enhance mass transit in the Roaring Fork Valley,” they would not be more specific and take a stance on the road and transit corridor alignment questions facing voters this November.

“We’re not in a position to make a decision on the entrance today,” said T. Michael Manchester, the RFTA board chairman and mayor of Snowmass Village.

Thursday’s RFTA board meeting was the last meeting before Election Day.

One board member said after the meeting that the reason the RFTA board didn’t take a stance was because many elected officials are “chicken s—-” when it comes to tackling tough political questions.

The advisory ballot questions ask voters whether they prefer the current “S-curve” alignment in and out of Aspen or whether they prefer a “modified direct” approach across the Marolt and Thomas properties that lie between the Maroon Creek roundabout and Main Street.

The questions, which are non-binding, do not ask voters about which mode of transportation, such as buses or light rail, they might want to see on either corridor.

The RFTA board was reluctant to take a stance on the city and county questions even though the organization’s stated long-range “bus-to-rail” goal is predicated upon the use of the Entrance-to-Aspen corridor across the Marolt-Thomas properties, whether RFTA is running a bus system, a rail system or a combination bus-rail system.

The current S-curve configuration is viewed by RFTA’s operations managers as a substantial bottleneck in the valleywide system, especially in the afternoon rush hour.

“I think staff and the board as a whole believes that the bus rapid-transit system would be more effective and efficient on the modified direct alignment than it would be through the S-curves,” Manchester said after the meeting. “And in that we support alternatives that would approve our performance as an agency, the modified direct would be better for transit than the S-curves.”

So why the reluctance by the board to take a specific stance on the ballot questions?

“Because it wasn’t set up in advance and part of our meeting packet, the board members weren’t able to feel comfortable that they had enough information available to make that endorsement,” Manchester said.

Why wasn’t it on the agenda?

“It’s a reasonable question,” he said. “I think we probably should have been more proactive on this question as a board. There has been a sentiment for a long time, right or wrong, that we should stay out of Aspen’s affairs. And to a significant extent, we have stayed out of the Entrance to Aspen because of that philosophy. But it is a regional issue.”

Board members Dan Richardson of Glenwood Springs and Michael Gallagher of Eagle County both said they did not have enough information Thursday to take a position on the specific ballot questions, but Gallagher did make the more general motion in support of mass transit that was eventually adopted by the board.

RFTA board member Helen Klanderud, the mayor of Aspen and a current opponent of using the Marolt-Thomas properties for transportation, said that parties on both sides of the election issue could take the RFTA board’s statement in support of mass transit enhancements and construe it to their advantage.

And yet, the RFTA board’s motion passed on Thursday would be difficult to take as an endorsement for the S-curve option.

Proponents of leaving State Highway 82 on its current two-lane alignment have not been actively promoting it as a mass transit enhancement, but instead see it as a way to preserve the Marolt open space and preserve a “small-town” feel for the town’s entrance.

And RFTA transit planner Alice Hubbard said after the meeting there are no additional mass transit benefits available on the current S-curves. “CDOT and the city of Aspen exhaustively explored the mass transit options there and there are none,” Hubbard said.

[Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is bgs@aspentimes.com]

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