Glenwood asks RFTA to scrap access plan process
Glenwood Springs City Council wants the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority to scrap its plan to control access across the Rio Grande Trail corridor and start over with a new, more inclusive process.
“While the Council acknowledges there are policy needs the draft Access Control Plan attempts to address, (we) question the auspices of what we consider a far-reaching, heavy-handed approach to establishing the draft policy,” reads a letter sent Friday by the city to RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship and the RFTA board of directors.
The letter requests five specific actions for the RFTA board to consider before proceeding any further on the draft plan, including:
• Adopt a “purpose and need” statement, and use that as a “driving force” for the access control policy.
• Adopt a broader public process, similar to the Colorado Department of Transportation’s highway access control plans, “to evaluate all possible solutions to satisfy the purpose and need.”
• Allow RFTA member jurisdictions to adopt the access control plan via formal intergovernmental agreements.
• Obtain a second outside legal opinion regarding the rail-banked status of the corridor that is used to prevent the rails-to-trails corridor from being severed, or otherwise “release the legal opinion you do have that justifies the heavy-handed, economically oppressive nature of the existing draft proposal.”
And, more to that point:
• If the intent is to someday restore freight service along what’s now an inactive rail corridor that’s used for a recreational trail, “present to the public a purpose, plan and timeline” for doing so, “and, ask the public if it wants freight service to be restored.”
The letter was agreed to unanimously by City Council at its Thursday night meeting.
Blankenship said the RFTA board will likely discuss the city’s suggestions when it meets March 12 in Carbondale.
“I definitely think it is something the board will consider, and try to determine to what extent it will be possible to fulfill these requests,” Blankenship said.
“There is a lot contained in there,” he said of the letter. “What is important in the coming days, weeks and months will be to sit down, roll up our sleeves, look at all the legal and regulatory commitments that RFTA is subject to, and see how we can move forward from there.
“Ultimately, we have to come up with an Access Control Plan that works for the greatest number of people, and assures that we will be able to preserve and protect the corridor,” Blankenship said.
The city’s letter comes on the heels of a roundtable meeting Wednesday among Glenwood, Garfield County, Carbondale and New Castle officials.
At that meeting, downvalley elected officials questioned what they believe to be serious restrictions contained in the access plan on adjacent public and private land uses, and the use of rail banking as a means to preserve the rail corridor.
Glenwood Councilman Mike Gamba, who has been among the most critical of the access plan, also would like RFTA to do a complete inventory of the portion of the corridor that involves federal land grants made in the late 1800s.
A recent survey done by RFTA found several instances where the rail corridor that was acquired by Roaring Fork Valley governments in the late 1990s crosses into private property in south Glenwood and elsewhere along the 34 miles of the corridor that is now owned and managed by RFTA.
By doing so, Gamba said RFTA can begin working with those land owners to clean up the titles to their property.
Mayor Leo McKinney suggested the second legal opinion regarding rail banking as a means to keep the rail/trail corridor intact.
“If preserving the corridor for freight rail is truly the reason, then RFTA should come up with a time line, then put that question to the people, ‘do you want freight rail to come back to the valley,’” McKinney said.
RFTA has been operating under the legal opinion of rail attorney Charles Montange that rail banking is necessary to maintain the corridor and prevent portions of it from reverting to adjacent landowners through abandonment claims.
“To maintain (the corridor) does require that certain obligations be met,” said Montange, who attended the Wednesday roundtable meeting. That includes adoption and regular updates to RFTA’s access control plan, he said.
Glenwood’s City Council also approved its formal comments on the Access Control Plan Thursday. Those comments were based on the opinion of special legal counsel Eric Hocky, a Pennsylvania-based attorney who specializes in transportation law.
“In the view of the city, the (access plan) seeks to impose standards that are overly restrictive, beyond what is necessary to preserve the corridor for the possible reactivation of future freight rail use …,” Hocky wrote on behalf of the city.
The proposed access plan is also “inconsistent with RFTA’s purpose to promote stewardship of the corridor ‘in cooperation with local governments,’” he argues.
RFTA has extended the public comment period for the Access Control Plan until May 9.
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Glenwood Springs’ officials continue to ask residents and visitors to use caution particularly around river access points within the city’s numerous parks.