Talking about transportation
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Trains, planes, buses, automobiles, highways, tramways and bike trails were all on the table for consideration at a town hall meeting to address the nation’s transportation future last week.
In fact, thoughts were encouraged on just about any mode designed to move people that might find a way into the new federal transportation bill, which Congress will develop this year.
Transportation for America, a coalition of national, state and local organizations focused on transportation needs, was the main sponsor of the forum held at Glenwood Springs City Hall on Wednesday.
A group of public officials offered their thoughts on local and regional transportation needs, and the floor was turned over to local citizens to do the same.
James Corless, director of Transportation for America, is traveling the country to gather as much input as possible from communities large and small aimed at crafting a sensible national transportation policy.
He explained that every six years Congress rewrites the nation’s transportation and infrastructure priorities. But the current effort is different.
“Only about once in a generation do we get to change the nation’s transportation policy, and this is one of those times,” he said at Wednesday’s meeting.
“And, you could say that the last time we truly had a national vision and a real mission was in 1956 when President Eisenhower signed into law a federal transportation bill to create the interstate highway system,” he said.
Transportation for America (www.t4america.org) is a coalition of more than 250 organizations seeking a new national transportation policy that’s “smarter, safer, cleaner and provides more choice,” he said.
Among its goals are to create green jobs, build a world-class rail network, maintain existing transportation systems, provide options to driving, and empower local communities to meet national goals.
Corless noted that an aging Baby Boomer population will need alternatives to driving as more people reach the age where they become unable to drive.
“We believe driving should be a choice, rather than a necessity,” he said.
That means providing alternative modes for people to get around, such as efficient rail and bus systems.
At the other end of the age spectrum, children need to be provided with safer walking and biking routes to schools. He noted that, in 1960 more than 60 percent of children walked to school. That number is now about 10 percent.
He also pointed to statistics that show the average American family spends more than 20 percent of its budget on transportation. However, in areas where transit systems are a viable option, that figure drops to about 9 percent.
Part panel discussion, part public forum, the meeting gave local residents the chance to learn about transportation, especially as it relates to the clean energy economy, and provide input to help shape the federal transportation bill.
Local sponsors of the forum included Clean Energy Economy for the Region (CLEER), the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA), the Garfield New Energy Communities Initiative, Colorado Association of Transit Agencies, I-70 Coalition, the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association and the city of Glenwood Springs.
Joining Corless on the panel were Garfield County Commissioner and I-70 Coalition board member Tresi Houpt; RFTA Executive Director Dan Blankenship, who is also president of the Colorado Association of Transit Agencies; Marianne Virgili, president and CEO of the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association; and Richard Baca, regional director for U.S. Rep. John Salazar (D-Colo.).
Houpt recalled a 2004 weekend retreat bringing together elected officials and planners from the region that led to the formation of the I-70 Coalition.
“We were all there with our different needs and issues and visions,” she said. “We had to get beyond our own parochialism and get to a vision that we could move toward that would benefit the whole corridor.”
Initial skepticism eventually gave way to a plan that gave balance to highway infrastructure needs, along with consideration for a high speed rail as an alternative to serve the resort areas, she said.
Virgili recalled that the Glenwood Canyon Project initially divided the community, but ultimately brought people together to come up with a better solution to put a four-lane interstate highway through the narrow canyon. The same cooperation is needed for a national transportation policy, she said.
“The future of transportation is going to be driven by new solutions,” Virgili said. “Instead of bailouts, we need something that will help the environment, provide jobs and aids in our transportation needs.”
Blankenship noted that RFTA had its humble beginnings in the 1970s, long before most rural areas had bus systems. It now has the country’s largest transit ridership for a non-urban area.
RFTA is ahead of the curve in becoming more environmentally friendly, utilizing 20 percent blend biodiesel and hybrid electric buses. It also maintains an extensive trail system along the Rio Grand right of way, and is moving toward a state-of-the-art bus rapid transit system for which voters approved funding last fall.
Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards offered that extreme growth makes it difficult for the Roaring Fork Valley to keep up with its transportation needs.
“People want to come and live here for quality of life, but we don’t want that to degrade our quality of life,” she said. Likewise, “Our guests don’t come here to experience the things that they left behind.”
Former Pitkin County Commissioner Dorothea Farris said a combination of maintaining the existing highway infrastructure, efficient transit systems, and improved air travel should all be part of the solution in this region.
“Public transit is for every one of us,” she said.
Carbondale Trustee and RFTA board member Ed Cortez agreed.
“Before we start to move forward in any direction we need to come together as a region,” he said. That means continuing to encourage the western Garfield County communities of Rifle, Silt and the county itself to join as RFTA members.
“This could be the most efficient system in the country, if we had the political will to get it done,” Cortez said.
For west-end communities like Silt, Rifle and Parachute, though, there are serious safety concerns related to the growth in the natural gas industry that need to be addressed.
“We need a better on and off ramp (from I-70) for our town,” said Parachute Trustee Judy Hayward. “This would make a big difference in our community job-wise and industry-wise.”
Chuck Peterson of Tramway Engineering in Glenwood Springs reminded planners not to forget innovations such as elevated tramway systems to serve local areas.
“Please consider aerial people movers in your planning,” he said. “It may sound esoteric, but these systems move a lot of people and are incredibly efficient.”
Wednesday’s meeting was video-taped and the comments will be included as part of a larger package of information to be given to Colorado’s congressional delegation.
Contact John Stroud: 384-9160
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