Are you ready for takeoff?

Roger Marolt
Aspen, CO Colorado

Even though the idea has occurred to nearly everyone already, the use of airplanes to finally solve our employee housing problems is too compelling not to write about.

It is obvious by now that we need alternatives to the current spectacle of incompetence in converting open meadows and old lumber yards into places where people we love end up living via exorbitant subsidies from taxpayers who undoubtedly understand the subtleties of finance better than the people in local government. Utilizing aircraft as commuting vehicles has become the only apparent alternative to stupidity in this fine town, where orchards of money trees always blossom, albeit some years later than others.

The big news last week was that the Burlingame employee housing project is going to cost local taxpayers about $73 million more than what they were originally led to believe when they approved the project by vote way back in the ancient times of the year 2005.

Now, perspective is everything with an issue such as this. Seventy-three million is just a number and without some point of reference it means very little. For example, say NASA suddenly is working on sending astronauts to a previously unknown planet where intelligent life recently was discovered, and they have received a formal invitation from these beings to attend the annual homemade bread contest. It might require the scientists charged with the responsibility of getting there on time ” for fear of insulting our newly found extraterrestrial allies ” to hastily work out a budget and get moving on the project as quickly as possible. The total cost might be somewhere in the quadrillions of dollars, so being off by a mere $73 million less than halfway through the project would not be too bad if the astronauts, traveling at the speed of light, actually get to the festivities before the intergalactic dough has risen.

However, if all we are trying to do is build affordable housing for 263 working families within an hour’s walk of downtown Aspen within the next five years, at an initial estimated cost of around $14 million, then revising that number upward by a multiple of six ” to $85 million ” just two and a half years later, while construction crews progress at the speed of a retracting glacier, you might not be so quick to say the project is being monitored by people who are good with numbers.

Perhaps much of the inadequacy in the original cost estimate can adequately be explained away by typographical errors in election brochures, reliance on outdated calculators or a local government top-heavy with sociology majors, deficiencies that certainly can be forgiven because none of them are anybody’s fault. But now that the true cost of employee housing has come to light, the practicality of exploring other new, very expensive measures for taking care of our town’s employees can be considered.

We are a town of the jet-set crowd, and it is high time we allowed our working population to join that club of frequent fliers. Let’s let our workers live anywhere they want and fly them to work each day! Yes, it’s a stretch. Not costwise, but because “anywhere” includes a lot of places and might make the project too complex. So let’s launch a pilot program between here and Grand Junction to keep things simple for now. Think about it: For the $85 million we will spend on Burlingame, our government could purchase a half dozen Bombardier Q400, 78-seat airplanes, such as the ones flown in and out of here by Frontier Airlines, and have enough left over to operate them on a commuter route to and from the “City by the Mesa” for several decades.

According to company literature, Bombardier aircraft have “very low operating costs, jet-like speed and spacious, quiet and comfortable cabins.” In addition, the planes’ “environmental credentials are exceptional.”

Get it? People could live in Grand Junction, where free-market housing is affordable, and commute by air each day to work in Aspen. The flying time each way is less than half an hour. Frequent shuttle buses could run between the airport and town. The plan would keep commuters off the highway. Parking problems would be eliminated. We could preserve more open space by eliminating antiquated housing. And, best of all, we could abolish the Housing Authority and, with it, all future needs of our government to understand the principles of basic mathematics.

All you would need to get on the plane is a government-issued identification card as proof that you are gainfully employed in Aspen. For nostalgic reasons, we could preserve the bureaucracy that is so much a part of the fabric of our privileged existence in Gulfstream City. Nominal fares could be charged, based on income categories, to ensure that local government can keep our business as their business. To make sure pricing remains arbitrary, fares could be indexed to the cost of a Trucker sandwich at Johnny McGuire’s deli. We can continue to conduct lotteries, pitting neighbor against neighbor, to see who gets window or aisle. We can even reserve the front sections of the planes with the completely nondescriptive “resident occupied” moniker, where fliers with no caps on income or assets would get a full meal instead of just peanuts during the flight.

Now, you might think this whole idea of using airplanes to solve our workforce housing dilemma is ridiculous, but is it more absurd than spending $85 million on a project we guessed was worth only $14 million when we approved it? Enjoy the flight.