Rail corridor access plan still on hold
Six months after downvalley governments expressed serious concerns about the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s proposed access control plan involving crossings of the Rio Grande railroad corridor, the plan remains on hold.
“The city of Glenwood Springs still isn’t at a point where we could support this,” Glenwood Mayor Mike Gamba, who sits as the city’s representative on the RFTA board, said at the monthly meeting of the intergovernmental entity last week in Glenwood.
Adoption of the access plan had been postponed from last November until March of this year, and then again to the May meeting while revisions were made to address some of the concerns.
Gamba said his and likely other member governments are still reviewing the latest revisions, which were just completed in late April. The RFTA board agreed to put off a public hearing on the plan until the July meeting.
Last fall, objections were leveled by the city of Glenwood Springs, the town of Carbondale and Garfield County, which is not a formal member of RFTA but which does provide funding for the Grand Hogback route of the valleywide bus system.
Chief among the city and county’s concerns is that the plan would make it difficult and more expensive for local governments to build infrastructure, including new streets, across the corridor.
Private landowners could also have a hard time making improvements to any property adjacent to the corridor, City Council members and county commissioners said.
The city last week did win approval from RFTA via an intergovernmental agreement to allow a crossing of the railroad “wye” section at the far north end of the Rio Grande line for the new Eighth Street connection.
The rail corridor, though it now serves as a public trail running the length of the Roaring Fork Valley, is protected for future rail reactivation through a legal mechanism known as railbanking.
Railbanking keeps the approximately seven miles worth of federal land grants in place and keeps the rail corridor intact, meaning RFTA must be careful that any new crossings are not viewed as severing the rail line.
If that happens, those land grant sections could be claimed by adverse possession from neighboring property owners, jeopardizing not only future commuter rail service but the popular biking and hiking trail.
Gamba and others have asked RFTA to explore different ways to preserve the corridor, including possibly negotiating with landowners to purchase the land grant portions of the line.
Stacey Bernot, the outgoing mayor of Carbondale who until last week chaired the RFTA board, said the town of Carbondale also has lingering concerns regarding the permanency of public easements in the access control plan.
Bernot said the town would also like to see the guidelines for new crossings be more permissive in allowing at-grade crossings, rather than grade-separated bridges or underpasses.
The town has long wanted to extend Industry Place from Highway 133 to connect to Eighth Street, but doing so would require crossing the rail corridor near Eighth.
RFTA officials say the easement issue shouldn’t be a concern from a legal standpoint.
“After conferring with RFTA’s legal expert on railroad matters, staff now believes that easements for public crossings can be granted by RFTA as long as they retain flexibility to allow RFTA to modify, upgrade or relocate the public crossings in the event that a commuter rail or some other public transportation system is implemented in the future,” Angela Henderson, RFTA’s assistant director wrote in a memo for last week’s board meeting.
RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship reminded the board that it will take a unanimous vote of the eight-member board to approve the access control plan.
“At this point we don’t want to dance around any issues,” he said. “We need to craft language to address the concerns in a way that allows RFTA to preserve the railbanked status of the corridor.”
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