RFTA wants say in Aspen entrance debate | AspenTimes.com

RFTA wants say in Aspen entrance debate

Traffic snarls have gotten so bad this year that the government agency that runs the bus system hopes to intervene and help find solutions.The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s board of directors decided Thursday to form a “Mobility Task Force” with a special intent to get buses out of Aspen quicker in the short-term and help solve the Entrance to Aspen dilemma the city is facing in the long-term.The dilemma is this: the Colorado Department of Transportation’s 1993 official decision on improving Highway 82 into Aspen calls for two traffic lanes and light rail. Aspen voters don’t want the Marolt open space used for the realigned route.The standoff means the S-curves remain in use. They cannot handle the traffic volumes, so on some weekday afternoons this summer it has taken buses up to 50 minutes to travel from the Rubey Park station downtown to Cemetery Lane due to congestion. “The Entrance to Aspen isn’t merely an Aspen or upper valley problem. It’s a problem for all of us,” said Dorothea Farris, a Pitkin County commissioner and RFTA board member.The task force was proposed by RFTA board Chairman Dan Richardson as a way to work cooperatively with CDOT and the city of Aspen on the entrance issue. He sees a broad role for the group, such as securing funds to make bus service more effective.But most of the scrutiny was on the problem of getting buses out of Aspen during weekday afternoons. RFTA Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship says buses lose their allure when they don’t have an advantage over private vehicles. And sitting in stop-and-go traffic doesn’t help.”It seems to be getting worse,” Blankenship said. “It’s been bad for many, many years but it seems to be getting worse.”Former RFTA board member and transit advocate Jacque Whitsitt of Basalt credited the board for its willingness to weigh in on what’s been viewed as an Aspen issue.The Entrance to Aspen “has been the elephant in the room,” according to Whitsitt.”People are basically jumping off the buses left and right, including me, because we can’t get home,” she said.Basalt Councilwoman and RFTA board member Anne Freedman suggested the agency needs to “pressure” Aspen to find transit-friendly solutions to its entrance dilemma. Farris countered that she doesn’t think any pressure is necessary since everybody wants the problems solved. It’s a matter of finding the right solutions, she said.Aspen Councilman Torre agreed. He said there needs to be “unity” among jurisdictions when negotiating potential solutions with CDOT.The new Mobility Task Force will have representatives from the board and staff of RFTA. Aspen and CDOT will also be invited to participate.One issue expected to be raised by the task force is a bus-only lane for six blocks or so on westbound Main Street out of Aspen. That would be in addition to two regular travel lanes. Blankenship and his staff view that as a significant way to cut delays.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com