Transit bond added to fall ballot
Pitkin County will ask voters for permission to borrow $10.7 million to pay for three transit projects and possibly speed up final improvements on Highway 82.
The ballot question agreed on yesterday does not increase taxes. Rather, it authorizes the county to borrow money against revenues already generated by the one-cent and half-cent sales taxes that are dedicated to transportation.
County finance director Tom Oken said the county hopes to combine $10.2 million with an additional $8.1 million in existing bonding authority and raise $18.3 million. About $2 million will be put in a reserve fund, $7 million will be spent on the Snowmass Village Transit Center, $1.5 million in planned for improving safety at bus stops, and $7.5 million is earmarked for purchasing buses and upgrading the bus maintenance facility in Carbondale.
By approving the bonds, voters might also jump start the moribund Entrance to Aspen project, Oken said. The Colorado Department of Transportation is currently committed to completing the highway work between Basalt and Maroon Creek Bridge; no funding is authorized for the final leg into Aspen, which calls for new bridges and straightening of the highway.
But if the county is able to borrow the money needed for new buses and the transit center, it will be able to use $5 million in reserves and the $4.6 million reimbursement for the roundabout as seed money for the Entrance to Aspen.
“Between these two funds, we can go to CDOT with about $10 million and offer it as a loan to get things started with the Entrance to Aspen,” Oken said. The total needed to build new bridges across Maroon and Castle creeks and build a cut-and-cover tunnel across the Marolt Open Space on the edge of town is about $24 million, according to CDOT estimates.
The idea of using local money to pay for projects and then have CDOT pay it back later is the brainchild of Commissioner Mick Ireland. It was first used last year with the roundabout. The county and city fronted $6.1 million for the project after CDOT agreed to pay back $4.6 million.
Commissioner Patti Clapper didn’t like the idea of waiting to see if the state will reimburse the county for the Entrance to Aspen project. She wanted to ask local voters to cover the entire $24 million bill and get it done with. Her hostility to Ireland’s proposal to try and get as much money from the state as possible didn’t prevail, however.
“Let’s go to CDOT first and see if they’ll put us higher up on the construction schedule if we offer to lower the cost by using some local tax dollars,” Ireland said.
The ballot question was referred to the voters with a 3-1 vote, with Clapper voting against it.
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Pitkin County public health officials are working toward opening a free, drive-through COVID -19 testing site in Aspen that will not require a doctor’s prescription.