Canyon bus service eyed to link three counties |

Canyon bus service eyed to link three counties

Eagle County’s mass transportation system is considering linking up with buses serving Garfield and Pitkin counties, allowing for seamless travel between the three counties.

The system, called ECO, announced in a news release that it is looking at a linkup with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority. It also is seeking feedback from people who might benefit from the service.

ECO is currently considering one morning trip and one evening trip through Glenwood Canyon, allowing commuters from Rifle and Aspen to connect with ECO at Glenwood Springs. Similarly, commuters from the Vail valley would be able to connect to RFTA’s service in Glenwood, traveling as far as Aspen or Rifle.

The idea was prompted by RFTA’s recent addition of Rifle-to-Glenwood service to its longtime Roaring Fork Valley service. The western Garfield County service is called the Hogback route, after the Grand Hogback, a prominent geological feature in that region.

“If we connect with RFTA now, with their Hogback Route,” ECO Transit Director Jim Lair said in the news release, “bus passengers from Rifle and Aspen will be able to travel all the way to Vail. That could be a boon for our retailers and employers.”

With the completion of the Interstate 70 project in Glenwood Canyon and increasing regional economic growth in the 1990s, a growing number of Garfield County residents have begun commuting to jobs in Eagle County, where, as in Pitkin County, salaries paid by employers are higher but housing can be cost-prohibitive.

Avon Councilwoman and ECO Board Chair Debbie Buckley said of the proposed transit linkup, “I hope it will really benefit the employers in the valley, give them a bigger pool of employees to draw from.”

RFTA is reportedly open to the possibility as well.

“We’re interested in making the connection work,” says RFTA Transit Planner Mike Davis. However, it will be incumbent on ECO to make the trips through the canyon, he said.

RFTA’s budget has been hurt by the recent economic slowdown’s impact on tax revenues.

Justifying service with ridership projections is tricky business, according to ECO. According to 1990 census figures, 544 Garfield County residents and 193 Pitkin County residents commuted to work in Eagle County. A total of 1,990 Eagle County residents commuted west: 1,692 to work in Pitkin County, and 298 to Garfield County.

“That data is too outdated,” said Lair. “Eagle County and Garfield County have changed considerably since then.”

According to statisticians, the 2000 census information will not be available until fall, and Lair suspects that telephone surveys will not do the job. Trying to catch the passengers from the three counties who would be interested and affected, says Lair, is too time-consuming and expensive.

Anyone interested in the proposed service can all ECO at 970-328-3524, e-mail or fill out the comment form on the Eagle County web:

“We’re willing to take the lead and initiate it, if there’s interest on both sides of the canyon,” says Buckley.

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