Key part of bus system behind schedule, over cost

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

The VelociRFTA bus-system expansion is on track for a grand opening Sept. 3, although a key component might not be ready for prime time, according to Roaring Fork Transportation Authority officials.

While the $45 million project is on schedule and within budget, the traffic-signal-priority system is running into constant problems, project manager Mike Hermes told RFTA’s board of directors Thursday. That system will provide buses with accelerated access through certain intersections throughout the Highway 82 corridor. Buses can trip a traffic signal to get quicker access. Installation continues to “experience delays and cost increases,” Hermes said. New controllers for the system must be installed, and they are $200,000 more expensive than the 170 old controllers, according to Hermes’ report.

New signal poles and control cabinets are being installed at specific intersections in the valley. Hermes said it is unknown at this time if the installation would be completed, the system would be tested and drivers would be trained to use it by the September kickoff of the expansion.

RFTA is adding buses to its fleet, constructing more accommodating and comfortable bus stations, adding parking lots and making technological upgrades such as ticket-vending machines.

The idea is to make buses more competitive with private vehicles. One key component is speed of travel. The priority for buses at traffic signals is supposed to shave off travel time between Glenwood Springs and Aspen.

Pitkin County Commissioner and RFTA board member Michael Owsley asked Hermes if the grand opening of the system should wait until after the priority system is working.

“I would just hate to disappoint our customers if we don’t have a priority system,” Owsley said.

But Hermes said Sept. 3 is more of a “soft opening” for the system. Some final touches will be required at some of the new bus stations after the grand opening, he noted. The pedestrian underpass of Highway 82 at the Aspen Business Center won’t be completed until November.

“The wow factor — it’s all there all at once — isn’t going to happen,” Hermes said.

Besides, he said, the traffic-signal-priority system will only shave off between five and 10 minutes of time between Glenwood Springs and Aspen. If it’s not functioning at the time of the expansion, bus riders will get a pleasant surprise as bugs get worked out of the system.

“It’s just going to get faster,” Hermes said of the bus trip.

The first four days of VelociRFTA service will be free. That covers Sept. 3 through Sept. 6. A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held at 8 a.m. Sept. 3 at the main Glenwood Springs bus station. The public is invited.

A barbecue is tentatively scheduled in the midvalley at 4 p.m. Sept. 6. Details are being ironed out.

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