Valley transit study’s $1M price shocks RFTA board |

Valley transit study’s $1M price shocks RFTA board

Vehicles enjoy a relatively light day on Aspen's Main Street this week. RFTA launched a transit study this month to assess future bus demand and system capacity.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

A two-year study to project future ridership on the Roaring Fork Valley’s public bus system and steps to meet the demand will cost about $1 million, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority board of directors learned Thursday.

Board members gulped at the price but reluctantly agreed it is probably necessary. For now, they have approved $260,000 for the first phase. They want to review the results and determine how to proceed after consultant Parsons Transportation Group turns in a capacity study and efficiency review this summer.

If the study progresses, Parsons’ team will hold public meetings, study land-use patterns, assess buses and other transit alternatives, and gauge costs. The concept is to give the board of directors information needed to possibly pursue funding through a ballot question in November 2017.

RFTA officials want to consider a sales tax increase or the addition of a property tax to an existing sales tax.

“We have to go to voters at some point,” said Carbondale Mayor and RFTA board Chairwoman Stacy Bernot. “We’re not sustainable on the track we’re on.”

She said she was “excited” about the study, though not the expense, because it will provide the information needed for the board and residents to set a direction on the valley’s transit future.

“We’re on the right path,” Bernot said.

The information is vital, she added, because some people don’t understand the importance of the bus system.

“I have some members of my board that want to de-fund RFTA,” Bernot said.

But board members were surprised by the total cost of the study. In prior meetings, they have discussed the need for a study.

“It just seemed like a good idea,” quipped Pitkin County Commissioner and RFTA board member Michael Owsley. The outlook might have been different had the board known the total cost would be $1 million, he said.

Owsley suggested that the board review the first phase’s results before committing to further funding.

Opinions about the study varied among board members. Snowmass Village Mayor Markey Butler questioned how the consultant arrived at the $1 million price for the two-year study.

“A million over that amount of time — that’s a lot of money,” Butler said. “It’s got to come from somewhere.”

Glenwood Springs City Councilwoman Kathryn Trauger urged Parsons official Ralph Trapani, a longtime former engineer with the Colorado Department of Transportation, to avoid duplicating information that has been collected already.

Trauger supported the study with that caveat, saying, “While this is a huge price tag, it’s important information for RFTA to have.”

Carbondale Trustee and RFTA board alternate John Hoffmann voiced outright opposition, noting that studies typically end up collecting dust on shelves.

“A million dollars is an embarrassing amount to try to explain to our constituents,” he said.

Hoffman wants the study to include a look at developing Cottonwood Pass between Missouri Heights and Eagle as part of an alternative route around Glenwood Canyon. Trauger also supported the idea, noting the hardships the canyon closure created for Glenwood Springs and the entire valley last month after a rockslide damaged concrete decking on the bridges.

But Pitkin County Commissioner and RFTA board alternate George Newman said the study couldn’t be all things to all people. It needs to stay focused on RFTA’s capacity and demand in the Roaring Fork Valley and New Castle area.

Trapani, who was instrumental in the widening of Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon and Highway 82 while with CDOT, assured the board his team would work efficiently. He warned that Cottonwood Pass and detailed work on the Entrance to Aspen weren’t in the scope of the study that Parsons proposed.

The RFTA board will get monthly briefings on the progress of the first phase of the study.

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