Snowmass officials say effort to derail transit center is misguided |

Snowmass officials say effort to derail transit center is misguided

Jeremy Heiman

Snowmass Village officials are critical of a ballot initiative aimed at derailing a proposed transit center.

Mayor T. Michael Manchester and Town Councilman Doug Mercatoris rebutted criticism of the project, saying the transit center has been carefully planned and is needed as soon as possible. The money is being appropriately spent, they say.

The ballot measure calls for a vote on any proposed expensive public works project by the Town of Snowmass Village. Leaders of the effort have said the proposed transit center should be put on hold until the Aspen Skiing Co. announces its plans later this year for a huge base village development at the bottom of Fanny Hill.

Petition drive leader Jim Heywood attacked the transit center plan as being “the wrong project, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.”

But Manchester said Wednesday the timing of construction of the transit center is critical. He said he’d like it to be built before the Skico starts construction on its base village, to avoid having two key parts of town torn up at one time. Ground breaking is planned for spring, and construction is expected to be completed in the fall of 2002.

Sooner is better, too, for public safety reasons, said town council member Doug Mercatoris. With the current design, all pedestrians coming from the parking areas must cross Snowmelt Road, creating potential conflict between vehicles and pedestrians.

“We put a public safety officer out there four or five hours a day just to make sure nobody gets run over,” Mercatoris said. The project will move Snowmelt Road behind the parking areas to remove the conflict.

The location of the center, on the site of the present parking lots and a bus stop, is also a sore spot with those behind the petition drive. They believe the selection of a location should wait until the town knows the Skico’s plans.

But, according to Manchester, Skico officials have been included in planning sessions for the transit center for several years, and bus traffic will be coordinated between the two stops.

“The intent has always been to service both locations,” he said. “The circulation is designed so that wherever the guests want to go, we’ll get them there as quickly and conveniently as possible.”

And, as planned, the center will be on property already owned by the town, Manchester noted. If the project were planned near the base village, the land would be outrageously priced, and the center would probably have to be built underground, he said. That would make it more expensive and possibly reduce transit ridership by making the ride less desirable, Manchester guessed.

At present, Snowmass Village has 1.7 million transit riders annually, and 1,500 skiers ride buses to the town on an average winter day, Manchester said. That number is expected to grow. In addition, 1,000 non-skiers arrive at the Snowmass Mall daily on buses, and Snowmass shuttles carry 3,000 more riders.

Manchester attacked the petitioners for suggesting some of the $10.5 million to $15 million earmarked for the transit center ought to be spent on entertainment facilities. The center is to be funded with $7 million from Pitkin County’s half-cent transportation tax, $2 million from the town’s real estate transfer tax, $1.5 million to $2 million from the town’s road tax, and additional money promised by local business interests.

All of the funds are dedicated to transportation and can’t be diverted. Mercatoris pointed out that the transit center can be funded without requiring a tax increase of any kind.

All in all, the idea of requiring an election for any major expenditure won’t fly, Mercatoris said. “I think it’s a horrible idea.”

He said it resembles the town-meeting form of government, not the type Snowmass has selected. Manchester agreed.

“It’s contrary to what representative government is supposed to be,” Manchester said.

“It’s always disappointing when you’ve spent two years working on something and then somebody surfaces to try to take it apart,” Manchester said.

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