Roger Marolt: Casey Jones you better watch your speed
Why would anybody waste time thinking about the little train that couldn’t? By this I mean the light rail one that couldn’t get past the scrutiny of local voters and, thus, the one we don’t have and probably never will since we sold part of the right of way and turned the rest into a bike path.
It makes no sense to ponder this hypothetical, but I did the other day while sitting in traffic on Highway 82. I guess since I was wasting time anyway, I tapped into my creativity and figured I might as well waste it differently than I do every other day commuting to and from work.
When the valley-wide commuter train was a hot issue, I was adamantly opposed. Most of the naysayers said it was too expensive, but I had lived in Aspen long enough to know that this was nonsense. There’s nothing that’s too expensive in Aspen. By now, everyone knows this. My concern was with aesthetics. I thought a light rail system would make this place seem too much like an ordinary city. For those of you laughing, you need to know that in the late 1990s there actually was a legitimate possibility of maintaining Aspen’s small-town character.
The rest is history, as they say. Almost as soon as the ballots were counted, I began to have remorse that the plan for the commuter line was derailed. Over the ensuing 20 years, that regret grew and solidified. I came to believe that we had blown a chance to get cars off Highway 82 and to have done something really positive for the environment and possibly extending the life of this planet. I have been wrong about a lot of things, but this was one of those I felt in my heart that I had missed by a long shot, about 40 miles of daily traffic between here and Glenwood Springs, to be exact.
The last couple of years changed everything. I am back to believing the train would have not only been a bad idea, it would have been a terrible idea. It was not an opportunity lost. It was a bullet dodged. As much as Aspen sucks right now, a commuter train would have put Aspen’s demise on the fastest track.
If we had built a fast, comfortable, convenient train through the Roaring Fork Valley, who do you think would be riding it now? Yes, it might be you and me. But, it would for sure be a lot more tourists, too.
It is not hard to imagine luxurious resort hotel complexes developed about every 5 miles up and down the valley within convenient walking distance to the rail line. Developers would have swooped at this opportunity. Around those rail-served micro-resorts would have sprung up restaurants and retail shops. More workers would have moved into the valley to service all of these. More housing would have been built, mostly the expensive vacation kind and a lot less of the affordable kind for working people, but many more houses nonetheless.
The construction trades and property management services would have boomed with even greater concussive force. These people can’t generally take the train, so it is not impossible to imagine that a light rail line might have resulted in even more traffic on Highway 82 than we have now.
I think this highlights how we and our elected officials have thought about a lot of development up and down the valley throughout the years. There has been too much focus on the what and not enough thinking about the what if.
Another great example is hotels in Aspen. Ten years ago the experts cried that we didn’t have nearly enough hotels rooms in town to remain competitive in the tourist industry. So, we approved and the developers built more hotels. Now we have Airbnb turning every other second home into a hot bed factory and we are overpopulated with visitors.
We must look at things much more deliberately, if we have any chance of saving this place. Every single project we consider needs to be evaluated on one overriding criteria: Will this development be better for locals or visitors? If it is not clearly better for those who live here, why would we give it a green light?
It sounds obvious, but take a stroll around town and look at the projects underway right now. Tell me how many of them appear to be predominately for the well being of local citizens. Are there any?
Roger Marolt feels valley locals are getting railroaded. We have to take back control of the switching yard. Email at email@example.com.