RFTA to take a side on the entrance? | AspenTimes.com

RFTA to take a side on the entrance?

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority board of directors is going to take another look at the Entrance to Aspen question.

The RFTA board has scheduled a special meeting for Monday to discuss a draft position paper that could lead to endorsement of either the modified direct alignment into Aspen or the existing S-curves. A November question asking voters their preference is on both the city of Aspen and Pitkin County ballots.

Earlier this month, RFTA board members unanimously passed a motion “to support alternatives that enhance mass transit in the Roaring Fork Valley,” but they were not prepared to endorse anything more specific, either for the “straight shot” or the S-curves.

In the past, RFTA General Manager Dan Blankenship has spoken in favor of the modified direct alignment and the potential benefits it offers RFTA, which carries over 3.5 million people annually. But Blankenship has also taken pains to stress that he was not speaking for the board.

The RFTA board is made up of appointed representatives from the cities and counties that help fund the regional transit agency. The board has not yet released its draft position paper that it plans to discuss on Monday.

In a discussion on Wednesday of the transit issues related to the Entrance to Aspen on GrassRoots Television, Blankenship did say that the modified direct alignment would help reduce transit travel times, which would in turn help the organization run more efficiently.

“The S-curves are a detriment to running an efficient transit system,” he said. “The S-curves are a significant bottleneck to the system.”

Blankenship also said the modified direct alignment would preserve future transit options and would help bring in more state and federal money for improvements to the transit system.

Joining Blankenship on the GrassRoots broadcast were Aspenites Mark Harvey and Howie Mallory, who are working with the local group Citizens for a Small Town Entrance. The group is seeking to preserve the S-curves and prevent the highway alignment from crossing the open space between the Maroon Creek roundabout and 7th and Main streets in Aspen.

Mallory was concerned that, despite the community’s best intentions to improve mass transit in and out of Aspen, an initial two lanes of pavement across the open space, along with the potential for two additional bus-only lanes, could someday turn into four unrestricted lanes.

“This might be a Trojan horse situation,” he said.

Harvey said that while he supports mass transit, he’s not convinced that trying to build more capacity, for either transit or cars, will improve the community.

“I think it is a matter of limits,” he said. “By making it easier for cars, and even buses, to get in and out of Aspen … I think we are heading down a slippery slope.”

Harvey also noted that “a lot of communities are tearing up asphalt to build greenways at the entrance to their communities, and I find it ironic that Aspen is thinking of tearing up a greenway to build asphalt at its entrance.”

Richie Cohen, a member of Citizens for an Efficient and Safe Entrance to Aspen, which backs the “straight shot,” also participated in the panel discussion, which will be shown several times over the next several days on GrassRoots TV.

“I don’t want to close the door on the corridor,” Cohen said. “It is the lifeblood of the Roaring Fork Valley.”

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

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