RFTA access plan angers GarCo commissioners | PostIndependent.com

RFTA access plan angers GarCo commissioners

Vehicles wait in January at the intersection of Highway 82 and Cattle Creek Road

Limits on new crossings of the Rio Grande Trail or changes to historic crossings for new development contained in the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority's draft Access Control Plan are akin to a taking of property rights, say Garfield County commissioners.

"I do see this as a land-use control on the part of RFTA," Commission Chairman John Martin said Tuesday during a presentation from RFTA officials of the newly revised access plan for the trail and historic railroad right of way that runs from Glenwood Springs to Woody Creek.

"We challenge that," Martin said, offering a reminder that the original agreements leading Roaring Fork Valley governments to purchase the railroad corridor in the late 1990s gave assurances that existing crossings would not be impacted.

Martin said those same agreements also included provisions that future land-use decisions along the corridor would not be controlled by the governing agency overseeing the right of way, which ultimately became RFTA. (The stretch of trail from Woody Creek to Aspen is under Pitkin County control, not RFTA.)

Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said he is "outraged" with RFTA's demands for grade-separated, often expensive trail crossings, calling it a potential "taking" of private property rights.

"I do think RFTA has its feet in our land-use planning, and these provisions are decreasing the value of land in this county," he said.

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One example is the stalled River Edge residential development at Cattle Creek between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, which has a historic ranch crossing but which has had to alter its access plans to address safety concerns from both RFTA and the Colorado Department of Transportation.

"Cattle Creek may never be developed because of the cost to cross the trail," said Jankovsky, who also said he would support a legal challenge to the "railbanked" status of the corridor.

While the corridor now serves as a paved recreational trail, it remains legally protected as a railroad right of way in the event it could be re-established for a commuter rail system in the future.

RFTA Assistant Director Angela Kincade said the purpose of the Access Control Plan, which is being revised from the last update in 2005, is to protect users of the trail and to preserve future uses by minimizing and consolidating crossings where possible.

One way to do that is limit to at-grade vehicle crossings and to plan for and construct grade-separated crossings involving a trail underpass or overpass where feasible, she said.

In any case, RFTA would not be allowed to land-lock any property owner, and access must be maintained in some way, Kincade said.

The draft Access Control Plan and accompanying Design Guidelines and Standards (http://www.rfta.com/traildocs.html) were released earlier this month. The documents are currently subject to a formal 30-day public comment period.

Garfield County commissioners plan to put their concerns in writing before that deadline. Glenwood Springs City Council is also scheduled to hear a presentation of the plan from RFTA at a special meeting on Jan. 29, and will also likely submit formal comments.

"The city is very concerned about this plan, because we do have a lot of historic crossings and are proposing a new crossing," Glenwood City Engineer Terri Partch said at the Tuesday commissioners meeting.

She was referring to city plans to punch through Eighth Street west of City Hall to the existing bridge across the Roaring Fork River to Midland Avenue, which will require a grade-separated crossing of the railroad side tracks known as the "wye."

That section of the former Aspen Branch of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad is owned by RFTA but is leased to the Union Pacific Railroad.

Jankovsky points to another recent example of RFTA's influence over land-use planning, which is the latest conceptual design for the city and county's proposed South Bridge connection at Highway 82 near the Holy Cross Energy headquarters.

After RFTA raised concerns about the planned trail crossing at that point in its comments on the Environmental Assessment for the project released in late 2013, the city, RFTA and CDOT have been working on a new design for the trail and highway intersection.

A preliminary plan now calls for an at-grade trail crossing, but a grade-separated highway interchange. Under that scenario, Highway 82 would be raised and the new South Bridge route would pass underneath, with on and off ramps instead of a traffic signal.

That plan would also maintain the existing signalized intersection at County Road 154 just north of the new interchange, Partch said. It would add about $4.5 million to a project that already has an estimated price tag of over $40 million.

But that's less than the estimated $10 million cost for a grade-separated trail crossing, she said.

The added cost also does not include planning and design for the new highway interchange, which requires a separate CDOT review, Partch said.

Jankovsky said it's an expensive and excessive delay to one of Garfield County's priority transportation-related projects.

"Now you've pushed that project back at least 10 years, to the point it may never be completed," he said. "That just does not sit well with me."