RFTA seeks final OK for CNG buses | PostIndependent.com

RFTA seeks final OK for CNG buses

John StroudPost Independent StaffGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority is pushing ahead with plans to buy up to 22 compressed natural gas-powered buses as it prepares to implement the expanded Bus Rapid Transit system next year.And, the agency would like to locate its compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling station in Glenwood Springs, where other fleet operators and perhaps individual owners of CNG vehicles could make use of the facility, RFTA officials told Garfield County commissioners at a Wednesday work session.RFTA was preparing to issue a formal request for proposals this week seeking companies to install the necessary infrastructure for the fueling station.”If things go well and we are able to do this, we would like to develop some partnerships to build a public fueling station somewhere in the Glenwood Springs area,” Blankenship said at the Wednesday meeting. “To make that happen, we would need to reach out to a broader group.”That could include financial participation by Garfield County and other local governments, as well as natural gas producers.”Encana is making a substantial funding award to RFTA to cover a portion of the cost of upgrading 22 new buses to run on compressed natural gas,” Sher Long, stakeholder relations advisor for Encana Oil & Gas, said after the meeting.She said it makes sense for RFTA and other fleet operators to adopt “a clean, low cost, domestically produced fuel to meet this region’s transportation needs.”Encana is also a leader among energy companies in converting its own fleet of 1,400 vehicles to run on compressed natural gas.”We presently have around 50 CNG fleet vehicles in the Piceance Basin,” Long said of the energy-producing region that encompasses much of western Garfield County. Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky was anxious to climb aboard with RFTA in facilitating the CNG bus conversion.”This is important for us in Garfield County,” he said. “We are now a big exporter of natural gas, and we need to find uses for it here. This is a better way to do that.”Added Commission Chairman John Martin, “I hate to say how many cubic feet [of natural gas] is leaving Garfield County on a daily basis. We need to be tapping into that for our transportation needs.”The county has also converted seven of its fleet vehicles to operate on natural gas in Rifle, where currently the only CNG fueling station is located at the Rifle Shell Station.The Governor’s Energy Office, as well as local entities such as the Community Office for Resource Efficiency and Garfield Clean Energy, are also interested in facilitating the expansion of CNG fueling stations and CNG-powered fleets.RFTA does have some hurdles to clear before it can commit to converting to CNG buses, rather than those using “clean diesel” technology, as it originally envisioned.In 2008, voters in the RFTA service area, which includes the Roaring Fork Valley and parts of Garfield County, approved a sales tax increase to help fund the $46 million Bus Rapid Transit project.However, about 54 percent of that cost is to be paid for with nearly $25 million in Federal Transit Administration (FTA) grants. That grant proposal was premised on the acquisition of 18 new clean diesel fuel buses. Four additional buses in the existing fleet are also to be replaced with newer vehicles. Since that time, RFTA has determined that CNG technology has improved enough in recent years that it would prefer to buy the CNG buses instead, Blankenship said. Fuel costs using natural gas are also expected to be significantly lower over the long term, and the buses require less maintenance, he said.RFTA will need formal authorization from the FTA in order to purchase the CNG vehicles. The switch will involve up to $3.1 million more in costs for the buses and related infrastructure, plus safety modifications at the bus maintenance facility on Wulfsohn Road in Glenwood Springs, Blankenship said. The RFTA board is expected to approve the purchase of the new vehicles at its Jan. 12 meeting in Carbondale. But the agency will have until February or March to determine exactly which type of vehicle it will be purchasing.If approved, RFTA would like to have four test buses in operation by January 2013, and the remainder of the new fleet in place by June 2013.In addition, the Bus Rapid Transit expansion, called “VelociRFTA,” is to include the construction of 11 modern, new bus stations, three new park and ride facilities, installation of various transit priority signaling systems along Highway 82, and several other system upgrades.jstroud@postindependent.com

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