Riding the rails is no option for Glenwood
CARBONDALE – Glenwood Springs will have to tackle its growing traffic congestion problem without converting an old railroad corridor into a highway, Roaring Fork Transportation Authority officials determined Thursday.
RFTA’s board of directors, meeting in Carbondale, voted unanimously to preserve the old rail corridor through Glenwood Springs for possible use by a train or fixed guideway bus system. Glenwood officials have never formally requested use of that corridor, but it is eyed by some as an option for the relocation of Highway 82 or creation of a bypass route, according to Bruce Christensen, Glenwood mayor and chairman of RFTA’s board.
Glenwood has been working with the Colorado Department of Transportation for years to come up with a plan to avoid strangling the town with traffic and destroying its small-town character.
Peak hour traffic already creates congestion along Grand Avenue/Highway 82 down the spine of Glenwood Springs.
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“We’re going to have even worse problems. It’s not going to get better,” said Glenwood Springs City Engineer Mike McDill.
Studies suggest that by 2030, additional lanes will be needed to prevent peak period paralysis even if interim steps are taken to improve flow. The population of Glenwood Springs is expected to increase 72 percent between 2000 and 2025. The population of the rest of the valley is expected to jump 70 percent.
“Transportation demand generally tends to increase at the same rate or slightly greater than population growth,” said a draft study released in October.
Glenwood Springs takes on more than its share of the burden of the valley’s growth. Most traffic headed to and from Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt and Carbondale must pass through Glenwood Springs. Traffic travels the length of town to access Interstate 70.
Christensen and other RFTA board members were sympathetic to Glenwood’s challenges. But Christensen said when he looks at the issue from RFTA’s perspective, it is clear to him that the railroad corridor should be preserved for mass transit rather than converted to a road.
“I realize my constituents, some of them, are going to want to lynch me,” Christensen said at the RFTA board meeting.
But he said it is vital to keep the rail corridor intact the length of the valley to ensure that a train remains an option. Train proponents were angry that RFTA allowed rails to be torn up for creation of a trail – even with the caveat that the trail would be removed if the train became a reality.
“There was concern if the track was [removed] there would never be rail,” Christensen said. The concern would be magnified if RFTA allowed the rail corridor to be used for a highway through Glenwood Springs, he said.
“We need to say – very, very [loudly] – that corridor is sacred,” he said.
The RFTA board approved a letter that supports Glenwood’s search for transportation solutions, but states that the rail corridor isn’t available.
The letter says: “RFTA manages its railroad right-of-way under the jurisdiction of the Surface Transportation Board and federal statutes that allow it to operate as an interim trail until such time as rail service is restored. No other use of the right-of-way is permitted.”
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