Voters will be asked to OK transit bonds |

Voters will be asked to OK transit bonds

Sarah S. Chung

Upper-valley officials renewed their commitment yesterday to strengthen the existing bus system and also create a valleywide Rural Transportation Authority.

At Thursday’s meeting of the Elected Officials Transportation Committee, government representatives from Pitkin County, Snowmass Village and Aspen agreed to borrow funding to make improvements to the Roaring Fork Transit Agency bus service and to help construct a transit center in Snowmass Village. The bonding, for an as-yet undetermined amount, would be repaid with the county’s half-cent sales tax for transportation.

The bonding proposal is to go to voters in November, but officials want to make sure the funding proposal does not threaten passage of the RTA, which is also proposed for a November vote.

“There are a lot of moving pieces to transportation right now and I’m just trying to get a few to stop moving,” said Aspen Mayor Rachel Richards.

Whether or not the RTA is approved this fall, Richards said RFTA needs additional funding to maintain its service level.

Richards initially proposed seeking $25 million in bonding to create an operating reserve fund for RFTA, purchase new buses, begin a RFTA housing program, build additional bus stops, and contribute to a new Snowmass Village transit center.

Upvalley officials agreed conceptually that borrowing for capital improvements is a good idea, but they decided the specifics should be determined at the next meeting of the group.

On the issue of the RTA, which would fund and oversee mass transportation in the valley and possibly extend to New Castle or Rifle, the transportation committee unanimously agreed that RFTA should merge into the new RTA.

Officials did not, however, decide whether to push for inclusion of the valleywide rail corridor under the RTA umbrella. The subject of how rail fits into future transportation plans, however, was not far from the surface of discussions.

Richards noted that however rail fits into the equation, a better bus system is needed and the two issues don’t necessarily have to be tied together at this stage.

“If rail happens or doesn’t happen, there’s always going to be buses. There will always be feeder services and connectors,” Richards said.

But Aspen Councilman Tom McCabe worried that not enough is being done to make RFTA a “first rate” service. He further speculated that there may be an “agenda” at work – one that leaves RFTA “with one hand behind its back” in order to promote the controversial commuter rail alternative.

County Commissioner Mick Ireland shot back that the charge is unfounded and that officials have been trying to get funding for RFTA for 20 years, before rail even became an issue.

“No one’s trying to cripple RFTA to get rail,” Ireland said.

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