Garfield County ups support for RFTA Hogback bus service
Efforts to reduce traffic counts during the Grand Avenue bridge closure by expanding bus services along the Interstate 70 corridor received some increased financial assistance from Garfield County.
Commissioners Monday agreed to contribute $703,000 — a 3 percent increase from the 2015 contribution — for the operation and limited expansion of the Grand Hogback commuter bus service between Glenwood Springs and Rifle. Operated by the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, the Hogback currently serves Garfield County west of Glenwood Springs with stops in New Castle, Silt and Rifle.
RFTA estimates a $1.05 million cost for operating the service as is, according to a letter from Dan Blankenship, RFTA CEO, to the commissioners. That is a slight increase from the $1.03 million estimate Blankenship provided to the commissioners around this time last year.
The estimate for Hogback ridership in 2016, according to the letter, also appears to be larger than the estimate provided last year, with more than 100,000 riders expected on the Hogback this year.
All of this comes as RFTA prepares for a future ramp up of service in an effort to reduce traffic counts during the 95-day traffic detour expected to start in mid-August 2017 as part of the Grand Avenue bridge project. Project officials have a goal of reducing traffic counts by 20 percent from 2014 numbers.
RFTA plans to nearly double the existing frequency of services between Rifle and Glenwood Springs, while simultaneously extending services during peak morning and evening hours to Parachute. The Hogback route currently terminates in Rifle.
RFTA intends to provide the Hogback service free of charge during the detour and expanded services in order to encourage ridership. Based on current ridership numbers, that could cost an estimated $64,000 in lost fees during the closure.
A grant from the upvalley Elected Officials Transportation Committee — which consists of elected officials from Aspen, Pitkin County and Snowmass Village — will partially help offset the cost. But Blankenship said RFTA may have to absorb some of the costs associated with the increased services.
While understanding Garfield County’s own financial difficulties, RFTA requested a 3 percent increase from the 2016 amount, which itself was a 5 percent increase from the county’s contribution the previous five years.
“The continuation of the Grand Hogback commuter bus service is especially important as we look forward to the planned closure of the Grand Avenue bridge next year,” Blankenship wrote in the letter to commissioners. “To help reduce auto congestion, RFTA will be doing its best to encourage people living in the I-70 corridor west of Glenwood Springs to use the expanded transit services that RFTA is planning to provide. The county’s funding is vital because it supports the foundation upon which these service will be added.”
There could be additional needs as the situation continues to develop, Blankenship said on Monday. For example, preliminary plans indicated the added bus services would be needed only Monday through Friday. However, the feeling now is that those services will be needed during weekends as well.
Noting that the county held the line on its financial contribution prior to the increase last year, Commissioner John Martin said he thought the county needed to live up to its obligation. He and Commissioner Tom Jankovsky stated that the county had anticipated the increased request this year and planned accordingly.
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