Free transit a big part of detour traffic plan | PostIndependent.com

Free transit a big part of detour traffic plan

A Ride Glenwood bus picks up passengers Monday at Ninth Street and Grand Avenue.

A greatly expanded free public transit system in and around Glenwood Springs extending all the way west to Parachute will be the backbone of the Grand Avenue bridge detour traffic mitigation plan starting next month.

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority has been working extensively with the Colorado Department of Transportation, city of Glenwood Springs officials and others to choreograph a plan to help reduce by 35 percent the number of vehicles traveling through the detour route.

It involves expanding the existing Hogback route along the Interstate 70 corridor west of Glenwood Springs to Parachute/Battlement Mesa, and making that route free with peak morning and evening service every 30 minutes, and additional park-and-ride lots.

Within Glenwood Springs, it involves a network of free shuttles serving different zones that will replace the current fare-based Ride Glenwood service during the 95-day detour period from Aug. 14 through Nov. 16.

Shuttles will be running between the 27th Street bus station and the Amtrak station on Seventh Street every 12-15 minutes, depending on the time of day. They will be picking up Hogback riders who will be dropped at the north end of the pedestrian bridge, and others who want to access BRT and other valley buses headed to points upvalley.

Another shuttle will run between the 27th Street station/Roaring Fork Marketplace and the Glenwood Meadows/West Glenwood every 15-20 minutes, and a third shuttle will serve areas north of the Colorado River along Sixth Street and Donegan Road to the West Glenwood Mall every 15-20 minutes.

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RFTA has posted the schedules for both the Hogback and in-town shuttle services on its website to help people plan ahead. The schedules can be found at http://www.rfta.com/gab/.

"It is going to take everybody in the community working to be part of the solution, and not part of the problem, to get through this and make it bearable," RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship said during a presentation of the transit mitigation plan to the RFTA board of directors last week.

For RFTA, "we're ready, but we also know we're going to need to adapt during the closure ourselves," said Kelley Collier, chief operating officer for the transit authority.

All extra buses are being moved to Glenwood Springs during the detour, vacations have been suspended to ensure there are an adequate number of employees available, and outside vendors are available to assist with any bus maintenance issues, Collier said.

Once in place, it's a system that could rival RFTA's free Aspen-Snowmass skier shuttle service during the height ski season, at least in terms of the outlay of resources that will be needed to pull it off.

RFTA anticipates it will cost in excess of $500,000 to run the free western Garfield County bus and in-town shuttle services, Blankenship said. Offsetting some of that expense is $335,000 allocated by the upvalley Elected Officials Transportation Committee, and $25,000 from Garfield County.

The city of Glenwood Springs is also paying around $150,000 for the north-end shuttle, which includes securing park-and-ride parking spaces at the mall.

To gear up, RFTA has hired up to 174 bus drivers and additional supervisors who will double as relief drivers.

The transit agency has also been working to secure additional parking in the western part of the county to allow people to park and ride the bus. Included in that plan are 50 parking spaces and room for eight bicycles in Parachute, 100 parking spaces and 24 bike spots at the Garfield County Fairgrounds in Rifle, with the potential for more if needed, 50 parking spaces and room for eight bicycles in Silt, and additional space at the existing Rifle and New Castle park-and-ride facilities.

"The big unknown for us in terms of riders will be the I-70 corridor," Blankenship said, explaining that RFTA is prepared with backup buses if needed.

For instance, if a bus headed to Glenwood Springs in the morning fills up by the time it hits Rifle, that bus will head straight to Glenwood nonstop and a second bus, or even a third if necessary, will be waiting to pick up remaining passengers along the Hogback route, he said.

"Until we get started with this we don't have anything by which to gauge what that demand is going to be," he said. That also could add to the costs.

"It's going to be a real balancing act to see how many vehicles and how many drivers we're going to need. … We will try to marshal all of our resources so we can make sure to accommodate everybody who wants to use us," Blankenship said.

That includes balancing the needs associated with the Grand Avenue detour mitigation and the regular services RFTA provides. The front end of the detour period will still be in the height of summer tourist season, and the Maroon Bells shuttle services gets even busier during the fall color season, he noted.

Housing some of the additional drivers who were hired and will be coming from out of the area temporarily is another challenge, Blankenship said. RFTA has arranged for some of the Aspen Skiing Co.'s housing that it won't need during the off season, and housing units are being secured on the west end of Garfield County, he said.

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