City scratching its head over RFTA rail corridor access plan
A plan by the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority aimed at controlling access across the valley’s Rio Grande Trail and railroad corridor seems unnecessary and “over-reaching,” say Glenwood Springs city officials.
City Council members and city staff, at a special work session Thursday evening, expressed many of the same concerns aired by Garfield County commissioners last week in reacting to the proposed corridor Access Control Plan.
“It is really not clear to us what RFTA is trying to do here,” Glenwood City Manager Jeff Hecksel said, adding that if the purpose is to preserve the corridor for continued trail and potential future rail re-activation, there are other ways to do it.
“From staff’s perspective, this document as proposed is wholly unacceptable, and it needs to be redone,” said Hecksel, who distributed a draft list of questions and concerns for council to consider as it weighs formal comments on the plan.
As it stands, Feb. 8 is the deadline for local governments and the public to submit comments on the plan, which was released by RFTA for formal review earlier this month.
However, Hecksel said he was informed by Carbondale town officials Thursday that they were told they would have until the end of February to comment. RFTA officials were unavailable for comment Thursday night.
The revised access plan, which updates an earlier version approved by RFTA soon after it took control of the corridor in 2005, is intended to protect trail users and to preserve the future rail potential, RFTA Assistant Director Angela Kincade explained during a meeting with Garfield County commissioners last week.
It does that by disallowing any “net new crossings,” according to the proposed plan. Any modification of crossings for new development would also need to be designed as grade-separated crossings with either a bridge or underpass, according to the plan.
“No new crossings will be permitted that could impose a future financial obligation or physical obstruction to freight rail reactivation, commuter rail use, trail use, or other uses for which RFTA has obligated itself,” the plan states.
Garfield commissioners, following the Jan. 20 presentation, said the proposal comes across as an attempt to control private and public land-use along the corridor as it passes through Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin counties.
Commissioner Tom Jankovsky went so far as to call it a potential “takings” of property rights, and said he would support a legal challenge to the “railbanked” status of the corridor that legally preserves it for future commuter or reactivated freight rail use.
The city, in its draft comments to the plan, shares some of those same concerns, including the potential to “interfere with growth and future potential tax revenue that public agencies and property owners are entitled to under zoning regulations and property rights.”
If the goal is to preserve the corridor for future rail transportation, as has been done on other “rail-to-trail” corridors across the country, Hecksel said there are “hundreds of examples” of ways to do it that are less controlling.
Councilman Mike Gamba agreed, and said those alternatives need to be discussed before proceeding with the access plan.
“There is an apparent concern with having this right of way revert to adjacent property owners if it is abandoned [for rail use],” Gamba said. “I think there are solutions to eliminate that concern.”
Councilman Ted Edmonds, who is the city’s appointed representative on RFTA’s governing board, said the board has not addressed the access plan since it was released.
“It has not been discussed in any detail or in any way vetted by the board,” Edmonds said.
Councilman Todd Leahy said he believes RFTA has “over-reached” its bounds with the proposed access plan.
“I wouldn’t hold back on the language, this just seems very far-reaching,” Leahy said, calling it “a power grab.”
City Council expects to continue its discussion of the corridor access plan at its Feb. 5 and possibly the Feb. 19 regular meetings.
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