RFTA trail corridor cuts into yards — ‘no intent to harm owners’ | PostIndependent.com

RFTA trail corridor cuts into yards — ‘no intent to harm owners’

The Rio Grande Trail follows the old railroad corridor between Highway 82 and South Grand Avenue across from the Roaring Fork Marketplace in south Glenwood Springs
John Stroud/Post Independent |

A survey of the Rio Grande Trail and historic railroad corridor that shows the right of way cutting through several south Glenwood Springs residential properties and even consuming part of Highway 82 in that area is something that needs to be addressed, corridor managers said Tuesday.

Maps contained in the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s ownership atlas came from a 2012 survey based on legal documents handed down by multiple railroad owners dating back to the late 1800s, according to Mike Hermes, facilities and project manager for RFTA.

The corridor survey is the first one ever done by RFTA since it took ownership of the rail right of way in the early 2000s, Hermes said.

“It uncovered some issues, especially between Glenwood and Carbondale … that we are going to have to deal with as an organization,” said Hermes, speaking before Garfield County commissioners at a work session meeting to address RFTA’s draft Access Control Plan.

The unfolding issues around the Access Plan and the rail corridor’s “railbanked” legal status could ultimately impact trail users, adjacent property owners and the future use of the publicly owned corridor for a possible commuter or freight rail line, should they ever become feasible.

City and county officials have both said the plan, as proposed, goes too far in its attempt to control access across the corridor, and that there appear to be better ways to protect the corridor for the long term based on other rail-to-trail projects around the country.

“There’s no intent to harm property owners, and it’s not a land grab,” Hermes said, responding to residents of the Cole Subdivision, Blake Court and Sopris Avenue who showed up at the Tuesday meeting to object to the ownership map, which shows the right of way extending into their back yards and even including houses.

While most of the rail corridor is 100 feet in width, the right of way through that particular section is 200 feet, which dates back to federal land grants when the railroad was first created

“What this shows is what we (the former Roaring Fork Railroad Holding Authority and ultimately RFTA) purchased from the Union Pacific,” Hermes said of the historic inter-governmental purchase of the valleywide rail corridor in 1997.

“In some ways we’re now trying to undo 150 years of mismanagement by the railroads,” he said. “We do recognize there are issues we need to settle.”

Similar instances of right-of-way encroachment by residential and several commercial properties in the Carbondale area are also indicated on the survey maps.

Likewise, the Access Control Plan itself, which has drawn criticism from both Garfield County and the city of Glenwood Springs, also needs some more work, RFTA Assistant Manager Angela Kincade said.

“It is not our intent to make things more difficult” for property owners or local governments, Kincade said in response to concerns from some elected officials that the document could be used by RFTA to control land-use decisions along the corridor.

The new plan is intended to revise an existing access plan that was first developed in 2000 and was last updated in 2005, Kincade said.

“We don’t have the authority nor do we want to landlock anyone,” she said.

“We’re not looking to change the way we’re managing the corridor, which will be fundamentally the same as we’ve done from the beginning,” Kincade added. “We’re just trying to preserve the corridor for the future.”

But county and city officials have said the revised access plan comes across as an attempt to control land-use decisions by limiting new crossings and dictating how any changes to existing crossings should be designed, including a stated preference for grade-separated and consolidated crossings where possible.

“I am very concerned about this document,” County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky reiterated, pointing again to RFTA’s influence over newly proposed design for the city of Glenwood’s planned South Bridge connection to Highway 82, which will have to cross the Rio Grande Trail.

“We may never get that crossing now because of RFTA,” Jankovsky said.

County officials also point to several sections of the Access Control Plan that fail to recognize agreements that were put in place at the time the corridor came into public ownership, as well as places where county roads encroach into the rail right of way.

Those concerns will likely be included in the county’s formal comments to RFTA on the Access Plan. The formal comment period, which had been slated to end on Feb. 7, may also be extended for another 30 or possibly 60 days. The RFTA board will likely take up that request when it meets in Carbondale on Feb. 12.

Glenwood Springs City Council is also set to further consider its comments on the Access Plan during its regular meeting this Thursday. County commissioners suggested a “roundtable” meeting between the county, city and possibly town of Carbondale officials to discuss common concerns related to the plan.

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