County ups support for Hogback bus route |

County ups support for Hogback bus route

A RFTA Grand Hogback bus makes a stop in Rifle Monday afternoon. Garfield County commissioners agreed Monday to increase funding next year to maintain the downvalley bus route amid rising costs.
Ryan Hoffman | Citizen Telegram

Garfield County has agreed to increase its contribution to support the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s Grand Hogback bus route amid rising costs to keep the downvalley service going.

County commissioners on Monday OK’d a 2016 contribution of $682,500 toward the estimated $1.03 million cost to maintain the commuter service between Glenwood Springs and Rifle.

That represents an increase of 5 percent from the $650,000 provided by the county in each of the past five years.

During that time, the cost to the valleywide transit authority to operate the route has increased by about 24 percent, while ridership has grown by 40 percent, RFTA’s general manager, Dan Blankenship, advised the commissioners.

The Hogback route is expected to carry 89,000 passengers this year, he said.

“The RFTA Board of Directors greatly appreciates the county’s participation in the funding of this worthwhile service and recognizes that Garfield County faces many challenges to sustain its own services and programs, just as RFTA does,” Blankenship stated in his written funding request.

RFTA is funded by the special sales tax district created by voters from Aspen to New Castle several years ago. While the municipalities of New Castle, Glenwood Springs and Carbondale are part of that district, the unincorporated part of the county and the municipalities of Silt and Rifle are not.

However, RFTA has received general fund support for the Grand Hogback route from both the county and from the city of Rifle, in addition to revenues from bus fares and sales taxes collected within the district.

Thanks in part to a $335,000 grant recently awarded by the upvalley Elected Officials Transportation Committee (Aspen, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County), RFTA also plans to add Parachute/Battlement Mesa to the Hogback route for three months in 2017 when the Grand Avenue Bridge in Glenwood Springs is to be closed and a Highway 82 detour in place.

The Hogback buses and some other RFTA routes will be offered for free during that time, from August-November 2017, to encourage commuters to use transit instead of driving their cars in an effort to reduce traffic through Glenwood Springs during the detour period, Blankenship said.

“It could be an opportunity during that time to attract new people to the service, and to gain support to continue it into the future,” Blankenship said of the Parachute expansion.

At the same time, it also raises some questions about the adequacy of park-and-ride facilities on the west end of the county and where to place a bus stop in the Parachute/Battlement area, he said.

RFTA is planning to add more parking at the New Castle park-and-ride, as well as in West Glenwood to meet the expected increase in demand in the coming years, Blankenship said.

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