Voters reject light rail, say `no’ to busway, too
Aspen’s voters on Tuesday rejected proposals to use government bonds to pay for either a light-rail system or a bus system between the center of town and the Brush Creek Road intersection with Highway 82.
By a margin of 1,052 to 853, voters turned down Initiative 200, which asked for voter authorization to sell up to $20 million in bonds to build an upvalley light-rail system between Brush Creek Road and the center of town, along a right of way that would parallel Highway 82.
The only precincts in the city to vote in favor of rail were the Hunter Creek area (precinct 4, by a vote of 140 to 126) and the West End (precinct 7, by a margin of 106 to 92).
By a much narrower margin, 894 to 805, voters also turned down a proposal to authorize up to $16 million in bonds to build a “dedicated busway” along the same right of way.
But voters also appeared to ask for another rail vs. bus funding election on the subject “no later than November of the year 2000,” by voting “yes” on a special advisory question at the end of the ballot.
“They actually said, we want more information, basically,” was the interpretation from Steve Smith, director of the pro-rail group, Citizens For a Livable Valley, who predicted that another election is likely.
“In the big picture, we have a failed funding proposal for rail, and a failed funding proposal for the busway,” conceded Aspen Mayor Rachel Richards.
But, both she and Smith pointed out, the voters voted “yes” on Advisory Question 2-C, which generally asked about citizens’ concerns regarding traffic congestion and air pollution, and whether there should be another election comparing rail vs. buses in a year.
But at least one anti-rail activist thinks that the rail supporters are grasping at straws and should simply admit defeat and give up.
“Let’s stop spending money on dopey rail studies, let’s send Tom Newland (director of the Roaring Fork Rail Holding Authority, which owns the valley rail corridor) home, and … let’s build a really great bus system,” declared anti-rail activist and Aspen City Council member Tony Hershey. Voters “clearly sent the message that they’re not interested in rail,” he said.
Hershey added, though, that the vote should be taken to mean that “at this point in time, they do not want one [a light-rail system]. Does that mean it’s dead? Certainly not.”
He said the city should start working on “an interim bus system” until a rail system is deemed feasible, as is called for by the Colorado Department of Transportation’s plans for the Entrance to Aspen.
As for the seeming voter ambiguity noted by rail proponents, Hershey dismissed the claim.
“They were advisory questions. They don’t mean anything,” he said.
When told that rail proponents believe that another election is likely, Hershey said, “OK, let’s do it. But guess what’s going to happen. They’re going to lose again.”
According to City Clerk Kathryn Koch, there were 1,932 ballots cast by city voters, out of a total of about 5,600 registered voters, for an official turnout of 34 percent. But, according to Koch, only about 3,000 of those registered are actually “active” voters, which means the city turnout was higher than 60 percent.
Three other city advisory questions on transit issues indicated that voters want effective mass transit, do not want added parking in residential neighborhoods, and do not want to see traffic congestion grow in the city.
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