Garfield County to pay expert up to $50K to look into west-end bus service
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Garfield County officials have concluded they need “professional help” in figuring out whether, or how, to put together a mass transit system that would better serve the western end of the county.
And at least one county commissioner, Tresi Houpt, wants to make sure that her fellow commissioners pay attention to the transportation needs of communities in the eastern portion of the county, too.
The Board of County Commissioners agreed on April 5 to pay a transportation expert up to $50,000 to look into the idea of creating some kind of bus service that would reach Parachute and Battlement Mesa.
Currently, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) operates the Grand Hogback service, which goes as far as Rifle and is funded mainly by annual payments from Garfield County.
The governments and voters of the towns of Silt and Rifle, as well as unincorporated Garfield County, have rejected calls to join RFTA and to enact taxes to pay for extending the agency’s service to the western towns.
Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and New Castle all have joined as RFTA members, and bus service to those communities and the unincorporated areas in between are funded by voter-approved sales taxes.
Since late last year, commissioners Mike Samson and John Martin have led an effort to create an alternative service of some sort to serve the western communities as far as Parachute and Battlement Mesa.
The different possibilities, as detailed so far, include RFTA membership for the county and the towns to the west; create a Garfield County transportation authority; or contract with a “third-party” operator for a bus service to the west.
Houpt, unconvinced of the need to start a new service and a self-described “fan of RFTA,” has argued that it would be better to explore an expansion of RFTA to serve the western end of the county.
At the April 5 commissioners meeting, Samson said it has become apparent that the two staff members assigned to look into the matter, planning director Fred Jarman and finance director Lisa Dawson, needed “professional help … to lay the groundwork for something of this nature.”
Samson also said that, according to his understanding, the current favored option is for a third-party contract, and he noted that “RFTA could be the ones that were the third party provider.”
Houpt, whose district includes Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and the eastern part of the county, agreed it is valuable to get an expert’s view of the matter.
But, she continued, “I think what’s really unfortunate is we’re talking … about spending $50,000 to look at essentially an alternative transportation system when we have a really good structure in place.”
She also questioned whether it is appropriate for the commissioners to be concentrating so heavily on the western communities and ignoring the eastern end of the county.
“We somehow have gotten to the point as a county that we think we don’t need to work with them [Carbondale, Glenwood and the surrounding region],” she declared. “I just don’t want my district to feel let down on this.”
Martin, reacting to Houpt’s appeal, told her, “You’re leaving out 2/3 of the county. Parachute is only the middle of the county [referring to the sparsely-populated, far western portions of the jurisdiction], and we haven’t even talked about Sweetwater [an unincorporated community near the Flat Tops that straddles the Garfield/Eagle county line].”
Samson and Martin ultimately agreed that the entire county should be incorporated into a study of transit needs but insisted that the consultant study only the replacement of the Grand Hogback route with service that goes all the way to Parachute.
Dawson and Jarman were directed to issue a “request for proposals” to find a consultant, and to contact RFTA to see if the agency had ever studied what Houpt termed “gaps” in service to the downvalley areas of the Roaring Fork Valley.
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Though it won’t bring major changes for most Garfield County businesses, local public health officials were notified Thursday that the county will move to the less-restrictive Level Blue, effective first thing Friday.