Would you bet the farm on federal grant for RFTA?
ASPEN – Roaring Fork Transportation Authority CEO Dan Blankenship is confident the Aspen-area bus agency will land a $24.16 million federal grant despite the transfer of power in Congress. He’s just not willing to bet his house or kid on it.
RFTA has planned an expansion of the valley’s bus system for 10 years and submitted a grant application to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) at least two years ago. The funding was included in President Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2011 on the FTA’s recommendation, Blankenship told RFTA’s board of directors Thursday.
The U.S. House recently approved the appropriation, and it is in the draft version of the budget under consideration by the U.S. Senate, according to Blankenship. But if the House and Senate pass different budgets, the differences must be reconciled.
Republicans won control of the House in the Nov. 2 election, and the party’s leadership has vowed to slash federal spending. So if the budget process is reopened, the fate of RFTA’s funding is unclear.
“I know that we would all like to have more certainty,” Blankenship said. “I believe our project is secure.”
Blankenship outlined various outcomes that could occur in the budget process, based on his discussions with RFTA’s lobbyist in Washington, D.C. While RFTA’s grant funding seems secure, it’s too early to say, Blankenship conceded.
“There are no guarantees. I wouldn’t want to bet my house on it, or my 7-year-old son,” he quipped.
Congressman-elect Scott Tipton’s fiscally conservative positions have rattled nerves further at RFTA. Tipton, a Republican, unseated Democratic incumbent John Salazar for the 3rd Congressional District seat, which includes Aspen and Glenwood Springs. Tipton made the economy a major focus of his campaign. He vowed to cut spending, “take government out of the private sector,” reduce federal deficits and cut taxes, according to his campaign website.
Tipton didn’t return a message left with a staff member Thursday to discuss his view of RFTA’s grant.
The RFTA board decided yesterday they should write the new congressman a letter outlining the agency’s efforts to secure federal funding for the expanded transit system. The letter will point out that voters in RFTA’s jurisdictions, which include numerous Tipton constituents, approved local funding as required to acquire the federal grant.
Blankenship said he couldn’t imagine Tipton would actively work to pull the grant out of the budget. The $24 million grant isn’t the type of earmark or “pork barrel” project that elected officials typically rail against, Blankenship said.
RFTA’s grant application was thoroughly reviewed by the FTA, and a number of criteria needed to be met. In addition, the bus rapid transit plan “is an infrastructure project that will put people to work,” he said.
RFTA board chairman Bruce Christensen said he also assumes that Tipton will see the benefits of the project once he learns about it. “When we’ve got something that’s gone this far, it really would be devastating if it got stopped,” Christensen said. “This is just a part of keeping the country moving.”
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