Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

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February 7, 2013
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Head of RFTA defuses fight over the bus expansion plan

Roaring Fork Transportation Authority CEO Dan Blankenship made two executive decisions Tuesday night that could end a battle with a midvalley subdivision and clear the path for a key component of the bus agency's expansion.

Blankenship pledged to residents of Sopris Village that RFTA won't stage buses at a proposed park-and-ride adjacent to the subdivision and it will urge Basalt to close access from that parking lot to Sopris Village Drive.

Blankenship's concessions came at a Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission meeting that attracted about 30 residents of Sopris Village. They were unified against allowing traffic to come into the subdivision to either enter or exit RFTA's 82-space parking lot, proposed where Mermaid's restaurant was once located. A second access to the parking lot is from East Valley Road.

RFTA has offered during long negotiations with the subdivision to prohibit traffic from exiting left from the parking lot into the subdivision. That wasn't enough for residents. They wanted all access to the parking lot from Sopris Village Drive eliminated.

"This is just too much impact on Sopris Village," said Michael Meiners, president of the homeowners association. He expressed concern that commuters would cut through the subdivision from Willits Lane to get to the parking lot.

Subdivision resident Tim Forrest urged the planning commission to "stand up" for Sopris Village in the debate.

"If that [parking lot] wasn't there, we wouldn't object to RFTA," Forrest said. "This is a poor design that's been shoved down Sopris Village's throat."

Blankenship said it was a design RFTA never promoted, as far as the entrance-exit off Sopris Village Drive. Traffic engineers for Basalt town government recommended creating the access to the parking lot from Sopris Village Drive to lessen the danger to pedestrians leaving their vehicle to cross East Valley Road to get to the bus stop, according to Basalt planning director Susan Philp. Blankenship said RFTA would abide to whatever Basalt decides on the issue.

"It seems like [the parking lot] is one of the biggest bones of contention here," Blankenship said in the understatement of the night. He defused the situation by deciding RFTA will find a different location to stage buses that might be required for service at peak times or in case another bus has a mechanical issue.

"We're going to move those buses somewhere else," he said.

Later in the meeting, he said RFTA wouldn't object to closing the access to the parking lot altogether from Sopris Village Drive.

Members of the planning commission needed little encouragement to recommend closing the access.

"It seems pretty simple to me," said planning commission member Gary Wheeler. "I wouldn't want people driving through my neighborhood, either."

Board member Chris Touchette supported closing that access as well, as long as RFTA enhances pedestrian crosswalks and installs pedestrian signs on East Valley Road. People who park in the proposed parking lot will have to cross the busy road to get to and from bus stops.

The planning commission voted 7-0 to recommend that Basalt Town Council approve RFTA's proposed parking lot, with the access closed at Sopris Village Drive and with the enhanced pedestrian amenities on East Village Road.

The issue will advance to the Town Council later this month.

RFTA officials stressed they need all approvals from Basalt by the end of March so construction can begin in April. The $46 million expansion, partially funded by the federal government, is supposed to be finished by September. If it is late, Blankenship said, the Federal Transit Administration might be wary of awarding future grants to RFTA. The federal agency awarded $24 million for RFTA's expansion.

The El Jebel parking lot is a small part of the project, but one RFTA officials deem critical for midvalley bus riders. Project manager Mike Hermes estimated the parking lot will cost around $750,000.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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The Post Independent Updated Feb 7, 2013 01:16AM Published Feb 7, 2013 01:15AM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.