Salazar sees fruits of RFTA funding efforts |

Salazar sees fruits of RFTA funding efforts

U.S. Rep. John Salazar got an on-the-ground look Monday at how some of his labors in Washington, D.C., are paying off in Colorado.Salazar took a ride on a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus, and saw where a 4-mile stretch of the Rio Grande Trail between Carbondale and Basalt will be completed this year thanks to his help.Salazar, D-Manassa, managed to help secure $1 million in federal trail funding for RFTA last year. It was quite a surprise that we got that. We figured it was a long shot at best, Mike Hermes, director of properties and trails for RFTA, told Salazar during the bus ride, on a blue-sky day under a fresh mantle of snow.The funding also may let RFTA begin trail work between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale this year. Its first focus is building a trail between the Buffalo Valley Inn area and the Westbank turnoff. Nonmotorists now must travel that section on Highway 82.RFTA staff and board members, including Glenwood Springs Mayor Bruce Christensen, also used Mondays visit to thank him for other funding he has secured for the agency, and to discuss issues surrounding its operations. Salazar, in turn, used the opportunity to sound them out on wide-ranging issues, from energy development impacts to immigration. Salazar met with the officials at RFTAs West Glenwood office.Salazar, who took office at the beginning of 2005, has helped obtain more than $1 million in additional funding for RFTA for 2006, besides the trails money.In total, what youve done for us is an incredible help for us, and we want to say thank you, RFTA Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship told Salazar.Of the funding, $400,000 is earmarked for an alternatives analysis for bus rapid transit.Blankenship also told Salazar capital improvements are a big priority for the agency. About a quarter of the buses in its 80-vehicle fleet were bought in 1994 and are due to be replaced. All have more than 500,000 miles, and have suffered corrosion from magnesium chloride that is used to reduce ice on roads. Before the substances use, buses could last 18 to 20 years, he said.Salazar said he will help the agency in any way he can. He said he tries to spread federal dollars evenly, but of course the wheel that squeaks the loudest always gets the grease.He has taken some criticism for carrying on the efforts of his predecessor, Republican and Glenwood Springs native Scott McInnis, to secure funds for a south bridge project in Glenwood Springs. Salazar has obtained $5 million for the project, but told Christensen Monday he has been chastised by state Transportation Director Tom Norton for helping you build a bridge to nowhere, I guess.The project would extend Midland Avenue to a new bridge over the Roaring Fork River, and then to Highway 82. But it could cost more than $12 million, and how the funding shortfall would be made up remains unclear. Garfield County Commissioner John Martin also has said that until questions such as the exact alignment and how much the project would cost are decided, its a bridge to nowhere. One possible route would require closing the city airport.Christensen told Salazar city officials hope to be discussing the future of the project in the next month or so.Salazar didnt apologize for his efforts to bring money to back to his constituents.Im here to represent the 3rd Congressional District, and Im going to fight like hell for whatever they need, he said.RFTA representatives told him that another need is for affordable housing program funds that can enable people to live closer to their jobs, reducing the demand for mass transportation.Salazar sees continuing energy development as another growing consideration in western Colorado.Its going to have massive impacts, massive impacts, on your communities, he said.Salazar plans to join McInnis on a tour of EnCana Oil & Gas facilities in the Parachute area this morning.He wants me to understand and have a deeper knowledge of the energy industry, the gas and oil industry, and I hunger for that knowledge, Salazar said.He also inquired of those at Mondays RFTA gathering about the role that immigrants play in the local labor market. He said he has heard from farmers in Olathe who are unable to find legal workers. Salazar said he hopes Congress can enact comprehensive immigration reform that addresses labor needs while addressing the social impacts of immigrants.As for transit systems like RFTAs, he sees them playing an increasing role in places such as the Interstate 70 corridor as traffic counts continue to increase.Were going to have to start depending more and more on them, he said.At the start of his bus ride, Salazar gave a positive review of the interior of the new RFTA bus a hybrid in which he was about to travel.These are nicer than the ones in Washington, he said.

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