RFTA’s bid to improve Roaring Fork valley service might not be ready for a vote | PostIndependent.com

RFTA’s bid to improve Roaring Fork valley service might not be ready for a vote

ASPEN, Colorado ” The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) might not be prepared to ask voters for money this fall to improve its overburdened bus system.

RFTA officials had hoped to seek a sales tax increase in November to allow it to begin implementing expanded service called Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). That system would include additional buses for more direct service from downvalley towns to Aspen as well as park-and-ride lots with state-of-the-art bus stations. Consultants estimated the cost at between $179 million and $191 million, with additional funds needed to operate an expanded bus system.

RFTA staff had told the organization’s board of directors in March that a decision about whether to seek voter approval in November would be necessary at RFTA’s April 10 meeting. However, a memo sent to the board Monday from RFTA Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship and planning director Kristin Kenyon said staff could not provide the board with financing scenarios at the meeting.

The memo revised the earlier claim that a decision on a ballot question was necessary on April 10. “The drop dead date for a board decision on a November ballot issues is May 8,” the memo claimed.

The bus agency is in need of immediate help as well as funding for long-term growth. RFTA’s ridership last year grew by 9 percent or nearly 358,000 riders over 2006. It hauled a record 4.45 million passengers.

Ridership continued to surge this winter because of frequent snowstorms and poor driving conditions. RFTA took out advertisements in February apologizing to riders for crowded conditions that forced some people to stand on buses during the most popular travel times. The agency also struggled for part of the winter to find drivers to provide all the service being demanded.

Blankenship told the RFTA board of directors in February that the organization either needed to find additional revenues for expanded service or it needed to “temper” expectations for the service it can deliver.

RFTA staff members have met with various local elected boards over the last month to explain the organization’s predicament and to propose solutions. Preliminary planning assumes that a sales tax increase would be needed from each member jurisdiction and that revenues would be needed from new members ” like Garfield County and Rifle.

The plan was to phase in BRT, also known as “RFTA on steroids,” by 2017. Blankenship’s latest memo questions if that can be achieved.

“Realistically, the preliminary BRT capital costs of $179 to $191 million, in 2008 dollars, appear to be greater than the potential streams available to RFTA,” Blankenship wrote. “This is especially true when significantly higher operating costs are layered on top of capital costs.”

It appears that RFTA has additional bonding potential of $140 million by tapping all its sources, according to Blankenship’s memo.

External issues also cloud the issue. With the country near or in a recession, depending on perspective, convincing voters to approve a sales tax increase could be tough.

RFTA’s board will begin sorting out the issue at its monthly meeting at Carbondale Town Hall at 8:30 a.m. Thursday.


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