Should RFTA take a stand on the entrance? | AspenTimes.com

Should RFTA take a stand on the entrance?

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Before the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority board takes a stand on the Entrance to Aspen, it should discuss whether it ought to be taking a stand at all, according to Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud.

“The threshold question is, does RFTA take positions when it involves a specific jurisdiction?” said Klanderud at a special meeting of the City Council on Friday. “I do think RFTA really needs to think, before taking a vote ? what their position is going to be on taking positions.”

The regional bus agency’s board of directors meets today at 9 a.m. at Carbondale Town Hall. Before the board is a position paper that formally endorses the modified direct alignment of Highway 82 at Aspen’s western entrance as the best alternative for valleywide mass transit.

“RFTA shouldn’t be taking a political position,” said City Councilman Terry Paulson, calling the maneuver “totally out of line.”

Both Klanderud and Paulson oppose the modified direct alignment, often referred to as the “straight shot,” but Klanderud assured the council last week she will cast a vote in its favor if the RFTA board takes a position. She is the city’s representative on the board.

Councilmen Tom McCabe and Tim Semrau called for Friday’s special meeting to make sure the mayor would vote in accordance with the council majority’s wishes. Klanderud, who had been out of town earlier in the week for a tourism conference in Grand Junction, lashed out at the two councilmen for failing to trust her to represent the council’s viewpoint.

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“It concerns me because it’s a little bit like maneuvering to introduce watch-your-back politics into the City Council,” she said. “I guess I’m very disappointed that somebody didn’t just call and say, what are you going to do on Monday morning?

“It’s an attack on my personal, professional and elected position integrity.”

“We just thought we’d take the opportunity to make sure the council’s majority opinion is represented,” McCabe said.

“I’m not casting any aspersions,” he said later.

“I appreciate your acknowledgement that you will convey the sentiments of this board,” Semrau said, apologizing for the communication breakdown.

The RFTA staff drafted a position paper on the entrance at Chairman T. Michael Manchester’s request, after the board voted earlier this month to support alternatives that enhance mass transit in the valley, but hedged on taking an outright stand on the highly charged entrance issue.

With that previous vote, however, the board gave its tacit endorsement to the direct alignment, since it is the option that enhances transit efficiency and effectiveness, the position paper notes.

The modified direct alignment is the best bet to maintain traffic volumes coming into Aspen over the long term, the paper concludes, because it offers the ability for improved travel times for buses or some other form of mass transit. Reduced travel times translate into more reliable, attractive service for users and reduced operating and capital costs, according to the paper.

“The development of a highly efficient and effective transit system takes extraordinary vision and many years of planning,” the paper concludes. “To counteract the auto-related impacts connected with unrelenting growth and development, RFTA and the communities it serves must have the foresight not to foreclose mode and alignment alternatives that could significantly improve the efficiency and effectiveness of transit. One of the major advantages of the modified direct alignment is that it provides a dedicated transit envelope that preserves the community’s option to revisit [light rail] and bus-lane alternatives at a future time.”

RFTA’s views on what is best for transit, however, may not jibe with a community’s views, Klanderud argued.

The RFTA board would probably agree that a four-lane Brush Creek Road connecting Snowmass Village to Highway 82 would improve mass transit, she noted. Since Pitkin County and Snowmass would have to pay for it, however, Klanderud questioned whether jurisdictions like Aspen, Basalt and Eagle County should be butting in.

“I’d like dedicated bus lanes and slip lanes on Grand Avenue in Glenwood,” Paulson agreed. “I’m not going to be telling Glenwood they should be doing that.”

On Friday, the council also bickered briefly over whether the city should somehow delineate the modified direct alignment across the Marolt-Thomas Open Space to give voters a better idea of its exact route.

Members were about to give up on the idea when they were told the alignment had already been staked out in anticipation of a council directive to either stake it or mow the swath of grass where the highway and transit corridor would cross the field. The council voted 3-2 to leave the stakes in place.

Voters in Aspen and Pitkin County will be asked which alignment they prefer ? the modified direct or the existing S-curves ? on Nov. 5.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]

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