Six years later, corridor investment study finished | AspenTimes.com
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Six years later, corridor investment study finished

Allyn HarveyAspen Times Staff Writer

Six years after work on it began, the once anticipated, but long forgotten, corridor investment study on transit alternatives for the Roaring Fork Valley has finally been completed.The study, once closely tied to an ambitious plan to build commuter rail from Glenwood Springs to Aspen, is at the printer and expected to be available to the public at the end of this week.Release of the 500-plus-page document marks the end of a long process that began in 1997. At that time, the political consensus among officials of the upper valley was strongly on the side of using much of the then-recently purchased Rio Grande & Denver railroad right of way to build an express commuter rail with limited stops running between Glenwood Springs and Aspen and local bus service in communities along the way feeding the trunk line.The document released this week will reflect the fiscal and political realities that made rail impossible. It focuses on a system of bus service known as bus rapid transit, with express buses running between West Glenwood and Aspen and feeder systems moving people around the communities served by the project and into the commuter system.As currently envisioned, bus rapid transit will feature express buses running every half hour between West Glenwood and Aspen.Express stops will have heated, indoor waiting areas, possible shopping areas, park-and-ride lots and a ticketing system that is more efficient than the current punch card and cash method. The current system can eat up three to five minutes at busy stops during peak hours. Each stop will feature a display that informs riders of how long they have to wait for the next bus.The buses will run on alternative fuels, be linked to a geographic information system and be built with rider comfort in mind, said Alice Hubbard, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s long-range planner. Each community along the route will have its own local bus service that coordinates with the express system.HOV lanes and other systems, including traffic signals that switch to green to allow buses to move through an intersection without stopping, will also be installed to give buses an edge on single-occupancy vehicles.”All these components add up to something that is competitive with the private automobile in terms of time,” Hubbard said.The corridor investment study anticipates completion in 2008, at a cost of $128 million in 2008 dollars.n See Study on page 8n continued from page 3Much of that money is expected to come from the federal transportation-funding bill that is currently being debated by Congress.The Roaring Fork project has the backing of all four members of Congress who serve this area – Sens. Wayne Allard and Ben Nighthorse Campbell, both Republicans, and Reps. Scott McInnis, R-Glenwood Springs, and Mark Udall, D-Boulder. A local match of at least 20 percent will be needed before the federal dollars can be used here.The corridor investment study is not, as originally planned, the first major step in the federal environmental review process of a rail system.Hubbard and consultant Roger Millar, who works out of the Carbondale office of the Portland, Ore.-based consultancy OTAK, said regional managers from both the Federal Transit Authority and the Federal Highway Administration advised against going through the onerous process required under the National Environmental Policy Act.Compliance with the nation’s environmental laws would have been necessary for rail but not bus rapid transit, the feds told local officials this winter. The corridor investment study, with six years of work behind it, is thorough enough in its scope to be used by federal and state authorities for appropriation and authorization of funds.”They said there is a simpler way to get where we want to go,” Millar said.The corridor investment study will therefore serve as a local planning document to guide transit development for at least the coming decade, and perhaps longer. Hubbard pointed out that if a consensus to build rail does eventually form, much of the vital information about the rail corridor that would be needed for a draft environmental impact statement has already been compiled in the corridor investment study. And all of the investments made for bus rapid transit can be used for a rail system.The decision to release the corridor investment study as a local planning document instead of as a federal environmental document has left RFTA with $2 million in federal funds that had originally been committed to completion of an environmental impact statement for rail. The Federal Transit Authority, which is overseeing the spending of that money has said RFTA can use the extra cash to build improvements to the existing system that would eventually be built anyway as part of the bus rapid transit system.Hubbard and Millar said they are working with governments between Glenwood and Aspen to identify appropriate parcels of land for park-and-ride lots. Carbondale, where no such lot currently exists, is at the top of the priority list. Local jurisdictions have until July 1 to apply for the use of the money, which is part of the six-year transportation funding law set to expire at the end of this summer.”We’re trying to be results oriented rather than process oriented,” Millar said.The corridor investment study will be open for public comment for 60 days following its release. For more information call RFTA at 963-9012.[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is aharvey@aspentimes.com]


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