Aspen throws RFTA expansion plan a curve ball
ASPEN, Colo. An all-for-one, one-for-all attitude among governments of the Roaring Fork Valley to solve transportation problems eroded a bit Thursday.The city of Aspen rankled some of the other governments by refusing to support funding of a management team that will design and implement a bigger and better bus system for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority.The rift caused some government representatives to question Aspen’s resolve to solve transportation issues. It threatens to erupt into a larger fight next month, when another funding issue comes up.The rift developed during a RFTA board of directors meeting. Each government in the valley, except Garfield County, has a representative on the board.That board voted 6-1 to contribute $200,000 to create a management team to study a Bus Rapid Transit system. That system, informally known as “RFTA on steroids,” would feature additional bus lanes on Highway 82, high-quality transit centers throughout the valley, additional fuel-efficient buses and additional express service with limited stops.RFTA’s goal is to expand and improve the system by 2017 to meet anticipated increases in demand. The agency hauled a record 4 million riders last year.RFTA staff members said they hope to raise at least $500,000 for the first year of the planning effort.RFTA board member Torre, an Aspen city councilman, cast the lone vote against the request for $200,000 from RFTA. Torre said he personally supported the proposal but his board directed him to oppose it. The council doesn’t support the broader plan to fund the project management and design team, he said.In addition to $200,000 from RFTA, the project management team will seek $200,000 from the Elected Official Transportation Committee and $200,000 from the Community Office for Resource Efficiency.Torre said the Aspen council members are “hesitant” to use funds from the Elected Officials Transportation Committee kitty. EOTC consists of the governments of Aspen, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County. Those funds typically go to improvements to the upper valley transit system.Torre also cautioned that the Aspen council would look closely at plans to use funds from CORE programs for transit studies.RFTA board chairwoman Dorothea Farris, a Pitkin County commissioner, picked her words carefully but still vented frustration over Aspen’s position. On the one hand, she noted, Aspen urges residents to use the right light bulbs to reduce their energy consumption and contribution to global warming. On the other hand, the city is balking at funding an effort that could create a better bus system, she said.Farris made it clear she didn’t understand the reasoning of city officials. She said that from her home overlooking Carbondale she can see the air quality deteriorate on some mornings as traffic thickens. Building a better bus system and getting some drivers out of private vehicles isn’t only a transportation issue – it affects “the energy we use and the air we breathe,” Farris said.With Aspen’s big push to reduce global warming through its Canary Initiative, it seems like the government would support the planning necessary to improve RFTA, she said.Most other government representatives at the RFTA meeting sided with Farris. Carbondale Trustee Ed Cortez suggested the upper valley governments hold the purse strings and control whether the project goes forward.”It’s like when a family gets together and you’re the rich aunt,” he said.If funds aren’t found to plan for expanded bus service, RFTA will become a “stagnant organization,” Cortez warned.Glenwood Springs Mayor Bruce Christensen urged the upper valley governments to produce the seed money for the first year for the RFTA planning effort. It would be appropriate for all governments in the valley to contribute funds for the planning effort in the future, he said.Snowmass Village councilman and RFTA board member Arnie Mordkin supported RFTA’s $200,000 contribution to the transit planning effort. However, he said agreed with Aspen that it might be inappropriate for the Elected Officials Transportation Committee to contribute to the effort. He said he would oppose that proposal.Farris promised a spirited discussion at the EOTC meeting in February.
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