Glenwood council climbs aboard bus ballot push | PostIndependent.com

Glenwood council climbs aboard bus ballot push

Glenwood Springs City Council is inclined to give its blessing for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority to float a ballot question this fall to increase property taxes for expansion of the valleywide bus system and other transportation improvements.

Mayor Michael Gamba said after a presentation from RFTA officials Thursday that, though he is generally opposed to new taxes, "in this case, the benefit to Glenwood Springs outweighs the situation of having to pay the taxes."

A 20-year transit systems improvements plan that has been in the works for several months does include a variety of expanded bus services, facilities and infrastructure projects that could help sell the tax proposal to Glenwood Springs and other Garfield County voters, he and other council members agreed.

Among them would be expansion of park-and-ride facilities in Glenwood Springs and New Castle, and some key pedestrian crossings in Glenwood. The list also includes optimization of the Hogback bus service in western Garfield County and the Bus Rapid Transit service between Glenwood and Aspen, and money to help pay for Glenwood's South Bridge project.

To pay for the long list of improvements from Aspen to western Garfield County that are outlined in the "Destination 2040" plan, RFTA is weighing whether to ask voters to approve a property tax levy of between 3 mills and 5 mills. The new tax, in addition to the transit district's existing sales tax funding, would generate $10.5 million per year at 3 mills, or $17.5 million at 5 mills, according to the plan being discussed by the RFTA board.

That board, made up of representatives from each of the eight member governments, is expected to decide by June or August whether to put a question on the ballot this fall.

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If the transit agency pursues the question and it fails, RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship said it wouldn't simply be status quo for the bus system and other RFTA functions, including maintenance and oversight of the Rio Grande trail corridor.

The additional funding is also needed to keep up with some $50 million to $60 million in bus replacement costs over the next 20 years, and to maintain other operational costs into the future, Blankenship said.

Without that extra funding, the organization would have to shrink over time, limiting transit services and adding to congestion as the population and ultimately traffic increases, he and transportation services consultant Ralph Trapani both noted.

"As you start to cut back, you're going to hear from the people who rely on these services," Blankenship said. "And it doesn't seem like the people we've been talking to want us to shrink."

Added Trapani, "The uncontrolled growth in traffic in this valley is doomsday, in my mind."

At the same time the Glenwood council members said they were willing to support the ballot measure, they also want assurances that Glenwood and other downvalley communities ultimately get their fair share. That's likely to be the subject of future negotiations with RFTA and possibly a formal intergovernmental agreement between the RFTA members on who gets what, and when.

One point of contention for Glenwood Springs Council Jonathan Godes is a proposed $4 million contribution from RFTA toward the estimated $45 million cost for the South Bridge project.

"That is a small placeholder," he said during the Thursday work session with the RFTA officials. Another negotiation could be whether the proposed grade-separated interchange at Colorado Highway 82 currently called for in the project is necessary, Godes said. The interchange is one of the things that is driving up the cost of the project.

"I'm not against [putting the question on the ballot] at all," he said, adding that he would like to see higher poll numbers in support of the tax. A voter survey taken late last year showed about 48 percent support for such a tax.

Councilor Jim Ingraham said he would like some followup surveying done to determine if a 3 mill levy would garner more support than going to 5 mills.