RFTA releases revised rail corridor access plan
A revised plan to control access points across the Rio Grande Trail from Glenwood Springs to Woody Creek is ready for a new round of public comments after coming under fire by downvalley governments earlier this year as being too restrictive for local communities and adjacent property owners.
The new plan aims to provide clear guidelines, rather than rigid rules, when it comes to considering and approving new or realigned crossings of the former railroad corridor, while also preserving the line under its railbanked legal status, according to Roaring Fork Transportation Authority officials.
“The biggest change is that we have softened some of the language in the Access Control Plan based on the feedback we received from our member jurisdictions,” said Angela Henderson, assistant director for RFTA, the intergovernmental agency that oversees the corridor.
“We feel this is a more user-friendly version that better defines the reasons behind the plan to protect the corridor for future transportation uses,” she said.
The revised plan is already being reviewed by member governments as well as Garfield County, which supports RFTA and has a significant portion of the corridor passing through it, but is not part of the sales tax-funded district.
The plan is also now posted to the RFTA website, http://www.rfta.com, opening a new 30-day public comment period that closes Oct. 30.
Representatives from the city of Glenwood Springs, town of Carbondale, Garfield County and other valley governments have been meeting since March with RFTA officials to rework the plan in an effort to eliminate some of the concerns.
“We have worked to try to soften the language,” said Glenwood Springs City Engineer Terri Partch, who has been part of those discussions.
“It is better than it was before, but it’s still a restrictive document,” she said, noting that RFTA still views railbanking as the best way to preserve the corridor for both trail and possible future transportation uses, but which places strict controls on new public or private crossings to avoid severing the historic rail line.
For local governments such as Glenwood that are seeking to make new street connections, and private property owners wanting to develop their land, “that’s always translated to a very high cost plan,” Partch said.
“There will still be costs to local governments to have a railbanked corridor through their jurisdictions,” she said.
In its responses to formal comments submitted by local governments to the first version of the Access Control Plan, RFTA said it stands behind railbanking as the best way to preserve the corridor for continued public use, at least for now.
“RFTA believes that the best way to ensure the protection of the contiguous railbanked corridor is to manage it as though it is an active freight rail corridor … with a bona fide intent to preserve it for future rail reactivation,” RFTA says in one of its responses to the city.
“However, RFTA understands that opinions differ as to the level of management controls necessary to adequately protect the corridor’s railbanked status,” it added. “For that reason, RFTA is supportive of engaging in a collaborative effort with the city and town of Carbondale to obtain guidance from the (federal government) as to level of management controls necessary to ensure preservation of the corridor’s railbanked status.”
One suggestion from city and county leaders has been to work together to acquire the portions of the corridor that were originally secured by federal grants in the late 1800s. Without railbanking, those lands would revert to adjacent property owners unless they can be purchased separately.
Henderson said the Access Control Plan is not the place to determine whether railbanking is the best way to preserve the corridor. But RFTA is open to looking at other options, she said.
In the meantime, the access plan is not intended to prevent new crossings or force them to be grade-separated, Henderson said.
“RFTA recognizes that its constituent governments do have certain land-use rights, and pledges to not be unreasonable or withhold approval of a crossing that meets our standards,” she said. “RFTA can also work to reduce those costs.”
Garfield County commissioners are scheduled to discuss the revised access plan and RFTA’s responses to their specific concerns on Oct. 5 during the afternoon session of the regular Board of County Commissioners meeting.
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Grace Wesseling is an animal lover, a cheerleader of seven years and another soon-to-be graduate of Bridges High School, class of 2021.