Trolley question needs more work | AspenTimes.com

Trolley question needs more work

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A proposed ballot measure to poll Aspen voters on a future trolley system failed to past muster with the City Council Monday.

Council members told members of the Aspen Street Railway Co. and city staffers to redraft the ballot language and add specifics about the estimated cost of installing a trolley line and its operation, the envisioned propulsion system the cars will use and the land it needs for a “car barn” for the trolleys, among other issues.

At least one frustrated member of the trolley group wondered if the council was trying to ensure the question’s failure.

“I think you’re building barricades that we don’t need to have here,” said Bill Dinsmoor.

“We’re trying to accommodate you after saying `no’ three times,” countered Councilman Tim Semrau. The council has repeatedly tried to give away the cars and then backed away from that plan at the behest of the trolley group, which wants a public vote on using the cars here.

“I want the public to know what you guys have to do to make this a reality,” Semrau said. “I think that’s fair.”

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The question, drafted by City Manager Steve Barwick and City Attorney John Worcester, outlines a number of conditions under which the city would cooperate with the trolley company to refurbish its six antique trolley cars and put them into service on city streets.

The trolley group would be required to prepare an engineering and operational analysis of the system and obtain the needed approvals by the end of 2003; raise sufficient funds to refurbish the cars, install the tracks and build the necessary facilities by the end of 2006; and complete construction by Oct. 31, 2008.

According to the proposed question, the system would be built at no public expense; the cars would not require overhead wires; the trolley route would run roughly from the post office up Galena Street to the gondola plaza; the operating costs would be equal to or less than the costs of operating the Galena Street shuttle, which it would replace; the city would provide the land for a trolley barn/maintenance facility; and the city would assume the operational costs when it accepts the system.

“I personally find this ballot still a little vague. It’s still not telling voters what they’re getting into,” Semrau said. “This says we’re going to provide the land necessary for a barn, but we don’t know where, we don’t know how.”

“It’s too vague to say the city will provide the land,” Mayor Helen Klanderud agreed.

The question also needs some estimate of the total cost of building the system, even if it’s to be financed privately, Semrau argued. He also wants the question to address how the cars will be powered, if not by overhead wires. The trolley group is exploring battery technology.

Councilman Tom McCabe asked for more specifics on operating and maintenance costs. “It should be reasonable for us to operate it over a long period of time,” he said.

“You know the voters are going to ask these questions anyway,” Klanderud said. “I don’t think you can avoid the money question at all.”

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com.]