RFTA expansion could cost about $190 million
A plan to vastly expand the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority over the next decade will cost between $180 and $190 million, local elected officials learned Thursday.
The plan ” known as bus rapid transit but informally dubbed “RFTA on steroids” ” has been contemplated for months, but Thursday was the first time consultants laid out the cost to create it. Additional revenues would be required to operate a bigger RFTA.
The cost was unveiled when elected officials from Aspen to Glenwood Springs met in
an all-day retreat to discuss RFTA’s future. The officials compose RFTA’s board of
The hefty price wasn’t the only eye-opener for the board members. They also learned
it will require an additional 3,162 parking spaces between West Glenwood Springs
and Buttermilk to make the envisioned system work.
Two-thirds of the new parking spaces would be needed in Basalt, El Jebel,
Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, said RFTA consultant Bill Byrne. Another 1,000
are envisioned at the Brush Creek Road intercept lot, the Airport Business Center
In return for the investment, RFTA would double its capacity. It would have to add 40
buses to the fleet of 93 it operates today. It would need about 150 additional
employees to meet winter demands.
Expansion would allow the agency to add several routes that would make fewer
stops between downvalley towns and the destinations of Aspen and Snowmass
Village. Currently, RFTA operates seven express buses per hour during mornings from the Basalt Park and Ride to the upper valley. That number would swell to 28 per
hour under RFTA on steroids. Other routes also would see drastic increases.
Other improvements would include convenient new bus stations strategically placed
with new parking structures or parking lots; technology that would give waiting
passengers real-time information on bus locations; and bus lanes on Highway 82.
Riding times would be reduced, making the bus competitive with private vehicles.
Reducing the travel time is the key to making bus rapid transit work, Byrne said.
Regardless of whether RFTA goes from that entire system or a scaled-down version,
it needs to do something, officials said. Skyrocketing ridership this winter stretched
the agency to its limits. Many passengers were forced to stand during heavy
commute periods in the morning and afternoon. RFTA simply didn’t have the drivers
necessary to add service, said Executive Director Dan Blankenship.
“The RFTA system is busting out of its seams,” said Ralph Trapani, a former highway
engineer for the Colorado Department of Transportation who is now a consultant.
Trapani, who oversaw much of the expansion of Highway 82 to four lanes, credited
local governments and RFTA with numerous actions over the years that have helped
ease traffic congestion. Bus rapid transit is the next great opportunity, he said.
While the price sounds steep, Trapani noted that expanding Highway 82 to four lanes
between Basalt and Buttermilk cost $250 million several years ago. Bus rapid transit
is a cheaper alternative and more feasible than further expansion of the highway,
according to Trapani.
“CDOT is broke,” he said. Federal highway funds are spoken for over the foreseeable
future. America is finished adding highway lanes to accommodate traffic, in his
So how does RFTA pay for its expansion? The best option is probably getting voter
permission to collect additional sales taxes, according to Ford Frick, a financial
Pitkin County has the ability to levy a specially designated 1 percent Rural
Transportation Authority tax, with voter approval, Frick said. The other municipalities
and county governments that belong to RFTA could raise sales taxes an additional
one-tenth of a percent, he said.
Using those tools, Frick said, would give RFTA bonding ability of about $140 million.
RFTA also will pursue grants through the Federal Transit Administration, but
consultants said that funding is a crapshoot.
RFTA’s board of directors must decide in April whether or not to ask voters in
November to approve a sales tax increase. Meanwhile, the boards of each local
government will be canvassed to see how they feel.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User
Facing the loss of five crucial games down the stretch due to COVID-19 quarantine rules, the Glenwood Springs girls basketball team’s postseason fate looked uncertain and totally out of the team’s control.