RFTA: More funding needed as group seeks to increase transit, walking and biking in Colorado
The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority is the nation’s largest rural transit system and the second largest transit system in the state, but the transportation group will need more funding in order to maintain its size and reach in years to come, Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship said Wednesday.
“We’re a very big fish in a little pond of funding,” Blankenship said during a meeting with Colleen McLoughlin of the Colorado Public Interest Research Group Foundation. “In order for us to be sustainable long term, we’re going to need more resources than we currently have.”
The Colorado Public Interest Research Group Foundation is a statewide nonprofit organization that advocates for public health, interest and safety.
McLoughlin visited Aspen on Wednesday as part of a two-week state tour to promote Colorado’s transit, walking and biking needs.
As part of the tour, McLoughlin shared the results of a new report that the Colorado Public Interest Research Group Foundation and the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project conducted in an effort to better understand Colorado’s transportation needs over the next 25 years.
According to the report, Colorado must invest at least $1.05 billion annually in transit, biking and pedestrian infrastructures and services in order to meet the state’s projected population increase and demographic shifts.
“On a national scale, Colorado is very low in terms of state-level support for transit, biking and walking,” McLoughlin said. “And while there’s no silver bullet solution to adequately fund transit, walking and biking, there are a whole range of policy changes that could chip away at these needs.”
The foundation’s No. 1 recommendation is to ensure that existing state transportation funds address “the transportation needs of a corridor, instead of arbitrarily being limited to highway road projects,” she said.
“And then when any new state transportation funding comes along, we need significant investment in transit, biking and walking rather than prioritize highways over everything else.”
These funds would help repair the 8,600 miles of inadequate sidewalks in Colorado’s urbanized areas, expand bike-share programs in communities statewide and add recreational bus services along the Interstate 70 mountain corridor, according to the report.
Investing in state transit, walking and biking opportunities would allow for more affordable, accessible and safer transportation systems, McLoughlin said, citing the report’s findings.
Such investments also would improve public health, reduce air pollution and enhance economic opportunities, the report said.
Additionally, increased transit, walking and biking opportunities across the state “is what people want,” McLoughlin said.
The foundation’s survey results indicate that the majority of Coloradans — and in particular the millennial demographic, which is expected to make up 1.4 percent of the state’s population by the year 2040 — prefer transit, walking and biking over driving a vehicle.
Blankenship said that public outreach and surveys from the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority revealed similar feedback: Residents in the valley would like to see increased transit services in several capacities.
The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority conducts a public survey every two years, Blankenship said, and the 2,000 respondents of its survey from March said they would like to see increased bus services, bus routes with fewer stops, larger buses to accommodate more passengers and added Bustang services.
But in order to maintain its current operations while also anticipating a projected state population increase of 2.4 million people by the year 2040, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority will need increased funding and support from the state.
Adding insult to injury, the sales tax for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority is due to sunset in January 2019, Blankenship said.
“The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority is a model for the rest of the state,” McLoughlin said. “But it will not be able to sustain its current services without state-level support.”
The state funds less than 10 percent of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s total operating budget, which Blankenship said is “somewhere in the neighborhood” of $32 million this year.
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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.