GarCo still not pleased with RFTA access plan
A revised Roaring Fork Valley railroad corridor access control plan isn’t much better than the one downvalley governments objected to earlier this year, Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky says.
“I have the utmost respect for RFTA, and I understand the importance of this trail for Garfield and Pitkin counties and the visitors that come here,” Jankovsky said of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, which oversees the valleywide Rio Grande Trail that runs along the historic rail line.
“But this is still a draconian document,” he told RFTA officials during a presentation of the revised plan at the commissioners’ regular meeting on Monday.
Jankovsky said upvalley governments tend to embrace more restrictive rules and regulations, “putting the burden on the backs of taxpayers with stronger land-use codes that drive up prices.”
That doesn’t play well in Garfield County and in Glenwood Springs, he said, where elected officials have been most outspoken against the controls on new rail corridor crossings intended to protect the federally railbanked legal status of the corridor.
RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship reiterated that the intergovernmental agency has “softened” some of the restrictive language in the document related to new crossings.
“We have spent quite a bit of time going through this and doing our best to revise it so that it’s workable for everybody,” Blankenship said of efforts over the past several months involving representatives from each of the eight member governments to re-work the access plan.
The plan is an update to one originally adopted in 2000 and last revised in 2005. It spells out how new or reconfigured corridor crossings will be considered, and whether they should be at grade or grade-separated in order to prevent the line from being “severed” in the eyes of federal transportation officials, Blankenship explained.
“We have to be sure to do what’s needed to preserve the corridor for future public transportation,” which is what railbanking is intended to do, he said.
“We have a responsibility to try to protect and preserve it,” Blankenship said, adding that the access plan has to be approved unanimously by the member governments.
If Glenwood Springs or another RFTA member objects, they have to keep working on it until it’s acceptable or retain the 10-year-old plan, which is out of date, he said.
Garfield County is not an official member of RFTA, since the unincorporated areas of the county were not included in the sales-tax funded district when voters approved it several years ago. But since a significant portion of the former rail line runs through the county, the rules apply just the same.
Some downvalley officials, including Glenwood Springs Mayor Michael Gamba who is the city’s representative on the RFTA board, have said another means besides railbanking is needed to protect what’s likely to remain the trail for the foreseeable future.
However, any other means would require giving up the approximately seven miles of the more than 40-mile-long corridor that were part of the original federal land grants that formed the rail line in the late 1800s.
RFTA would need to negotiate with adjacent landowners to retain a trail easement in order to do that, Blankenship said.
“It would take quite a bit more time and quite a bit of resources to make that happen,” he said, suggesting the access control plan is not the place to have those negotiations.
Garfield County commissioners and Glenwood Springs City Council are expected to make their own comments on the new plan.
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