Transit study not done yet |

Transit study not done yet

Allyn Harvey

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of articles relating to the recent release of the Corridor Investment Study with its cost comparisons between transit systems.Now that the operating and maintenance cost comparisons between trains and buses have been released in the much-anticipated Corridor Investment Study, it might be a good time to ask this question:What exactly is a “much-anticipated Corridor Investment Study?”The answer is much more than generally assumed. But once it is completed, in either December or January, it will have come at a cost of about $3 million, according to records of the Roaring Fork Railroad Holding Authority. The federal government is covering $1.6 million of the tab, local governments are paying the rest.People on both sides of the train debate have been saying for months that they needed the study to be finished before making up their minds once and for all about valleywide transportation. “We need to wait on the corridor investment study,” was the rallying cry by all but the most ardent supporters and opponents of rail.So they waited – and waited – as consultants from as far away as Portland and as nearby as Basalt developed a computer model that accurately represents what’s happening today on the transportation front and can reasonably predict what will happen in the future.When the model was finally tweaked enough to satisfy both local and national experts – including some from two of the nation’s top transportation consulting firms who checked the computer software and inputs for inconsistencies – it began churning out numbers on transit ridership and costs. It shows how many people will ride trains vs. how many would ride enhanced bus service, and what it costs to run them on a day-to-day basis.Now that the maintenance and operating costs have been calculated and the comparisons between commuter rail and enhanced bus service have been made, the prevailing wisdom is that the study is completed. As is often the case, the prevailing wisdom is wrong. Not done yet “The corridor investment study is really an effort to take a look at transportation solutions that will solve the valley’s long-term needs,” said Roaring Fork Railroad Holding Authority Director Tom Newland.The Holding Authority is the public agency that owns the former Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad rail line between Glenwood Springs and Woody Creek. It is funded with contributions from Pitkin and Eagle counties, the cities of Aspen, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, and the towns of Basalt and Snowmass Village. It is run by a board of directors made up of elected officials from all the contributing governments and a representative from the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Board, which helped purchase the right of way.In addition to the capital, maintenance and operating costs of rails and buses, the corridor investment study includes a plan on trail development in the right of way, and another on how property owners should access their land across the right of way.If all goes as planned, the Holding Authority’s board will choose a locally preferred alternative – either a commuter rail system or greatly enhanced bus service – in early October. Once the preferred alternative has been named, the Holding Authority’s staff and the project’s lead consultants on the project will write a Draft Environmental Impact Statement containing land-use and environmental impacts.”Basically, the corridor study is part of the federal planning process, and the draft environmental impact statement is part of the federal environmental process. We could do them separately or do them at the same time. We chose to combine them and do them together,” said Roger Millar, a consultant to the Holding Authority. How did we get here? The idea for a corridor investment study seeped into public discussion in late 1997, about five months after the Holding Authority was created to purchase the right of way.Newland said the original plan was to draft a comprehensive master plan that would govern access and trails. But by late 1997, local officials learned that the valley had been approved for $80 million in federal transportation funding for the construction of a commuter rail service.Citizen task forces were convened in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, Basalt and Aspen to begin considering how the valley should deal with its transportation problems. “Initially, we eliminated some alternatives just because there was no way they were going to happen, rickshaws and kayaks, for instance,” Newland said.After the choices were boiled down to three – doing nothing, building a rail system or building a dedicated busway on the railroad right of way – the task forces began working on recommendations about which choice to compare with expanding the existing bus service. They all selected rail, and the midvalley task force also recommended the trains be routed off the right of way at the Catherine Store, parallel Highway 82 through El Jebel and Basalt, and rejoin the right of way at Wingo Junction.The Holding Authority board agreed with most of the task force recommendations, except with the suggestion from the upper valley task force that the train run through Woody Creek. Once the means and route were selected, the process of developing a computer model to make the comparisons began.The operating and maintenance cost estimates released last week are the result of 18 months of work. Once a locally preferred alternative is chosen by the board, and the draft environmental impact statement is completed, the corridor investment study will be finished, Millar said.

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