RFTA forms subcommittee to study western Garfield County transit funding options | PostIndependent.com

RFTA forms subcommittee to study western Garfield County transit funding options

In this file photo, the RFTA Grand Hogback route pulls into the New Castle Park and Ride stop during the early evening rush hour.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority would like the western Garfield County municipalities of Silt and Rifle to consider a renewed ask of their voters if it’s time to join RFTA or to possibly form their own transportation district.

The inter-governmental RFTA board on Thursday agreed to form a subcommittee to begin an outreach effort that its members hope could lead to a more stable funding source to provide transportation services in the western part of the county.

That area is now served by RFTA’s Grand Hogback bus route, with $550,000 in funding from Garfield County and a significant subsidy from RFTA taxpayers to pay for the $3.8 million service.

In addition, the town of Parachute and Garfield County have in recent years formed the Parachute Area Transit System (PATS), which serves the Parachute and Battlement Mesa areas and provides connections to the Grand Hogback service.

“Since the formation of RFTA in 2000, several efforts have been undertaken to encourage Garfield County, Silt and Rifle to become members,” RFTA’s CEO Dan Blankenship and Chief Operating Officer Kurt Ravenschlag said in the staff report to the board for Thursday’s meeting in Carbondale. 

“In order to provide assurances to these potential new members that they would have the ability to make their voices heard on the RFTA Board of Directors, the RFTA Formation IGA was amended,” they wrote. “The amendment ensured that, no matter how many members might be added to the board in the future, any three RFTA member jurisdictions would have the ability to veto any measure supported by a majority of the members.”

A full seat at the table would ensure service to western Garfield County into the future, Blankenship said.

But, there are other options, he said, including working with the county and possibly Parachute to form their own Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) and work in concert with RFTA for bus route connections.

Previous ballot questions dating back to the mid-2000s for Rifle and Silt, and even the unincorporated portions of Garfield County, to join RFTA have failed.

But, it’s been more than 16 years since that last attempt to earn voter approval for a formal western expansion of RFTA, and a lot has changed, Carbondale RFTA board representative and Mayor Ben Bohmfalk said.

“I think it’s worth exploring again,” he said. “A lot of things have changed, and the population has shifted since voters were last asked that question. We need to approach it with a realistic mindset.”

Glenwood Springs RFTA representatives, Mayor Jonathan Godes and Shelley Kaup, agreed. They said it ties in with the city’s goals to find traffic solutions for the Grand Avenue/Colorado Highway 82 corridor through town.

But, New Castle Mayor Art Riddile, who has led the charge for western Garfield County RFTA expansion during the seven years he’s been on the board, said he’s tired of beating his head against the wall.

“My goal was to get Silt and Rifle involved with RFTA,” he said. But, the elected leadership in the two towns has not been in favor, saying they believe that funding RFTA only benefits upvalley interests. 

“Both of these communities kind of have their head in the sand, and I don’t know if it’s worth it to go there again,” Riddle said. “Right now, they’re being subsidized by Garfield County, so they’re getting a free lunch.”

Ravenschlag said RFTA has its own ideas about the transportation needs on the western end of its service area, “but we need to understand that need from those communities.

“We understand what the concerns are among those various entities, but we need to see if there’s a way RFTA can play a role in addressing those needs,” Ravenschlag said. “Today, western Garfield County is a major driver of the transportation demand in our region and the congestion on the I-70 and Highway 82 corridors.

“Finding solutions to that is only going to put this region in a better position to address that.”

Post Independent interim Managing Editor and senior reporter John Stroud can be reached at jstroud@postindependent.com or at 970-384-9160.

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