Scope of proposed Garfield County bus system concerns commissioner
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – If Garfield County does embark on creating its own transit system, it should provide service to all of Garfield County and not just the western communities, one official insisted at a meeting this week.
“Do we ask the people in the Roaring Fork Valley to pay this tax, if they’re not going to be served?” asked Garfield County Commissioner Tresi Houpt, referring to the idea of using tax revenues to help defray the operating costs of a new transit system.
The Board of County Commissioners met with county staff members on Tuesday to talk primarily about possibly setting up a new bus service to replace the controversial Hogback route run by the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority.
The Hogback route provides service to communities west of Glenwood Springs along Interstate 70 – from New Castle through Silt and ending at Rifle.
Garfield County, Silt and Rifle are not members of the RFTA transit district. The county pays a contract fee of several hundred thousand dollars annually to the agency in return for the service, and Silt and Rifle each have contributed smaller amounts.
New Castle, Glenwood Springs and Carbondale are members, and each of the towns collect a special transportation sales tax to pay for their service. The same is true of Basalt, Snowmass Village and Aspen, along with Eagle and Pitkin counties, all of which are RFTA members.
The Garfield County commissioners, some of whom have not been happy with RFTA’s service, on Tuesday considered whether to start a county-run service, hire a “third party” to run a mass transit system for the county, or stick with RFTA.
To date, most discussion has centered around the idea of providing service to the western end of the county, all the way to Parachute and Battlement Mesa, which are farther west than Rifle and are not served by RFTA.
Houpt, whose district includes Carbondale and the southern portion of the county, said any countywide transit system supported by countywide taxes should be “a more comprehensive system” than the one under discussion.
Specifically, she said, the areas around Carbondale, in Spring Valley and up the Four Mile Road all either are, or will be, ripe for bus service as their populations grow.
“There is a growing desire to have service outside the municipalities,” she told the others on the board.
She suggested the county should incorporate those areas, and “probably other corridors further west” than Parachute, into its deliberations.
“I disagree,” declared Commissioner Mike Samson, whose district is the western end of the county.
He said the county does not have the money to provide mass transit to every corner of the county, and that the commissioners “don’t want to bite off too much at one time.”
“We’re not going to be able to eat the elephant all at once,” he remarked.
The commissioners agreed that more information is needed for further discussions. That would include a breakdown of potential sales tax or other revenues from the unincorporated areas of the county, and whether the government has the legal authority to impose a tax on one portion of the county but not another.
County staff members were directed to come up with that and other information prior to a meeting, scheduled for Feb. 1, with the mayors of the western communities to talk more about transit.
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