RTA may include Garco after all | AspenTimes.com
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RTA may include Garco after all

Allyn Harvey

Two Garfield County commissioners made a surprise showing at Carbondale Town Hall yesterday, joining government leaders from the entire valley in discussions about forming a regional transportation district.

The appearance of Walt Stowe and John Martin comes just days after they voted to set up a separate district to serve residents along the Colorado River, even if it means undermining the district under consideration for the Roaring Fork Valley.

Garfield County has been at odds over transportation issues with most valley governments for several years. It does not contribute to the valley bus system, it withdrew from the Roaring Fork Railroad Holding Authority in 1998, and it has so far refused to participate in discussions to form a Rural Transportation Authority.

“It looks like Garfield County is courting the RTA, but I don’t think they’re ready to marry it,” commented Aspen City Councilman Tony Hershey.

Hershey sits on a committee of elected officials from valley governments that is studying a transportation authority to pay for mass transit between Glenwood and Aspen.

State law allows neighboring communities in rural Colorado to form transportation districts that cross normal jurisdictional boundaries. The initial formation requires voter approval, but once intact, the authority is able to levy an annual $10 vehicle registration fee to pay for transit. The law also permits the RTA to raise sales tax up to four-tenths of a percent, but not without another election.

By joining elected officials from Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, Eagle County, Basalt, Pitkin County and Aspen, Stowe and Martin took what may be the first step to include Garfield County in a regional transportation system.

“We think it’s prudent to heed what’s already in place,” Stowe explained of his decision to attend yesterday’s meeting. Three conditions need to be met, however, before he would be comfortable participating, he said.

“The process appears skewed toward the Roaring Fork Valley. For us to join, it needs to represent the people in western Garfield County. They need to be considered,” he said.

By the time he left yesterday, Stowe was reasonably confident that Basalt, Eagle County, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, and now perhaps Garfield County, would guarantee that upper valley communities don’t have too much control over the transportation authority.

Stowe expressed concern about a proposal to require unanimous approval from the transportation authority board before a neighboring jurisdiction could join. But committee members assured him it would require only a two-thirds majority on the board and a simple majority of voters from the community that wants to join.

“Once the RTA is formed, it’s easy for other communities to join,” said RTA spokeswoman Alice Hubbard.

Stowe and Martin also had questions about the RTA’s relationship with the long-running effort to build a commuter rail system between Glenwood and Aspen.

Many of the same elected officials who sit on the railroad holding authority board – and have come out strongly in favor of rail – also sit on committee that met yesterday. One exception is Councilman Hershey, a dedicated opponent of rail. The addition of Garfield County representatives would add two more rail opponents to the table.

“We don’t want the RTA to be a funding mechanism for a railroad running up the valley,” Stowe said.

RTA committee members urged the Garfield County commissioners to join their discussions on a more formal basis by signing the same agreement they did. The agreement is simply a commitment to study the idea; it is not binding.

I think there’s room to move with this,” Stowe said. “I need to talk with my fellow commissioners about taking a seat at the table during this initial stage in forming the RTA,” he said.


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