U.S. transportation chief praises local bus system | AspenTimes.com

U.S. transportation chief praises local bus system

John Colson
Post Independent
Aspen CO Colorado

Kelley Cox Post Independent

CARBONDALE – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood held up the works Monday morning at the Bus Rapid Transit project here so about 20 Gould Construction Co. hard hats could line up behind him and cheer.

“I want to thank the workers,” LaHood told his audience, waving at the line behind him while addressing about 60 people collected at the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority park-and-ride lot at Highway 133 and Village Road in Carbondale.

“The jobs are the important thing here, being able to put Coloradans to work,” said LaHood, who also is taking part in panel discussions about the future of mass transit at the Aspen Ideas Festival this week.

He praised local and regional governments for their determination and cooperation, first to form the transportation authority and then to focus on the Bus Rapid Transit system as a way to move people more quickly up and down the valley.

“This is the way to do it – elected officials, appointed officials and people with a vision coming together like this,” he said.

The Bus Rapid Transit system is to cost just over $46 million, approximately $25 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the balance from RFTA. It is expected to be up and running by fall 2013.

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The park-and-ride lot in Carbondale currently is being transformed from a traditional park-and-ride lot into a high-tech transit stop for what is officially known as VelociRFTA, named for Hollywood’s speedy and deadly two-footed dinosaurs popularized in the movie, “Jurassic Park.”

The buses are to be run on compressed natural gas, and the system’s logo will incorporate the Hollywood beasts, called velociraptors, on the side of the new buses.

Termed “a significantly enhanced bus system” by RFTA, the Bus Rapid Transit is designed to combine the route flexibility of bus systems with the speed of a rail system, including rail-like stations, low-floor buses, greater frequency and faster trips.

During peak commuting periods, the trip from Glenwood Springs to Aspen on a Bus Rapid Transit vehicle is expected to take about an hour.

LaHood said the system is at the cutting edge of transportation innovation in the United States and that it is catching on in cities and other rural areas.

“You’re a model for cooperation, for putting your friends to work and for putting together the first rural Bus Rapid Transit system in the country,” he said.

LaHood called the Bus Rapid Transit system “a good use of taxpayer money.”

He also said if local governments ever want to go one step further and create a passenger rail system in the valley, as has been considered over the past three decades, “we’ll look into it.”

He said federal transportation planners already are hoping to “connect 80 percent of the communities in the country by light rail in the next 20 years.”

RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship, however, said rail service in the Roaring Fork Valley is not a near-term likelihood.

“If it’s going to happen, it’s going to be a long time in the future,” he predicted. Light rail in the valley would cost around $500 million to build, and the region’s population isn’t large enough to support a train system, he said.

jcolson@postindependent.com

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