Dear Editor,Consultants hired by RFTA have estimated the cost of completing the valley trail between Aspen and Glenwood Springs at $8.5 million if the trail stays off the rail bed except at “pinch points” and no track is salvaged. If the trail were built on the rail bed and the existing track were salvaged, the cost would be approximately $6 million. In a column written in the Aspen Daily News, Jon Busch referred to a concrete trail. The trail that currently exists is paved with asphalt and road base. There are no plans to pave with concrete anywhere. Jon also advocated a 4-foot-wide trail paved with gravel that stays off of the rail bed. A gravel trail eliminates road bikes. Staying off the rail bed leads to multiple blind corners and these combined with a 4-foot-wide trail creates a serious safety hazard for two-way traffic.The vast majority of trail supporters would like to see light rail service between Aspen and Glenwood Springs. Such a service would be a great amenity for the valley, reducing traffic on Highway 82 and reducing air pollution. The problem has not been a lack of desire but a lack of money. For some reason, public officials and vocal rail advocates have failed to address the cost issue in their recent writings and statements. RFTA has investigated the cost of building and operating a light rail system. Current estimates in 2004 dollars project a cost of $300 million for the tracks, stations, and equipment from Buttermilk to Glenwood Springs and another $100 million from Buttermilk to downtown Aspen. With huge deficits currently projected in the federal budget, state finances on the ropes, and local taxpayers unwilling to take on a burden of this magnitude, the light rail system will not be built any time soon. In addition, these systems are costly to operate. With very optimistic assumptions on ridership, RFTA anticipates that a light rail system in this valley cannot be operated on a break-even basis at least for another 15 or 20 years.The argument that building the trail on the rail bed and salvaging the track will eliminate the possibility of rail service in the future is totally illogical. The absence of rail in other localities after rail-to-trail projects have been completed has much more to do with the cost of rail than the fact that a trail was built. If we can raise $400 million to build a rail system, the additional cost of moving the trail off the rail bed would be a relatively small additional expense. The cost might be $410 million instead of $400 million. The existing track is of no use for a future light rail system. The only reason not to salvage the track at this time would be the expectation that the track might be worth more some time in the future. The rail system will be built when the project makes economic sense. “Keeping the dream alive” is a silly reason not to build a trail.Peter FreyBasalt
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