ASPENWhen it comes to rural resort area
travel, perhaps no two U.S. cities are as akin to one another as Aspen, Colo., and
Both cities are at the destination ends of scenic mountain river
Both have major roadways that span the length of the valleys, providing
transportation for the thousands of resort-oriented workers who live "down
valley," as well as for tourists.
Both are experiencing growing pains as urban Americans seek solace
beneath towering mountain backdrops.
In the summer, as many as 29,000 vehicles will drive the predominantly
two-lane highway serving Aspen, contrasted to the 15,000 cars per day that travel the Wood
River Valleys state Highway 75.
As a result of its booming traffic, parking in Aspen is scarce, making
Ketchum look like an empty department store parking lot in comparison. Also, traffic jams
are common in the Roaring Fork Valley, especially during morning and evening commuting
On a recent trip to Aspen, 16 local planners and residents heard
extensive presentations about what the Colorado resort city and surrounding Pitkin County
are doing to accommodate the ever-increasing numbers of people using the Roaring Fork
valleys state Highway 82.
Ketchum City Councilman Randy Hall explained the impetus behind the
"The more I learn about other resorts and how their decisions
affect their communities, the more I learn how to effectively deal with situations that
might or might not arise in our community," he said. "Its not like I went
to Aspen to try to solve Ketchums problems. I think theres something to be
learned from all resorts in the West."
Answers to transportation problems could, in part, come from Aspen.
One answer to local transportation and commuter woes could be expanded
public transportation, KART board president Pawan Mehra said following his return from the
Mehra wrote in his notes from the trip that for the Wood River
Valleys transit system, KART, to be effective, "it must be countywide and must
be a joint effort by Bellevue, Hailey, Ketchum, Sun Valley and possibly Shoshone and Twin
Mehra modeled his conclusion on efforts Aspen and Pitkin County are
undertaking to make a regional transportation system a reality.
Currently Aspen and Pitkin County help fund a bus-based transit system
for workers and visitors between Aspen and communities as far away as Glenwood Springs, 40
miles down valley. The busses operate 23 hours a day.
Aspens bus transit system, called the Roaring Fork Transit
Authority (RFTA), has witnessed a dramatic increase in riders in the past two decades.
Aspen city officials attribute the increase to the difficulty of the commute on Highway 82
and to scarce parking in Aspen.
In 1983, RFTA general manager Dan Blankenship said, approximately 1
million people rode RFTAs busses. Last year, that number jumped to close to 4
million riders, and the last two years have witnessed a 70 percent increase.
Blankenship said, however, that the demands for the busses exceed the
amount of labor and funding available to RFTA. For that reason, a regional transportation
governing board, with funding from all cities affected, may be the next step in Pitkin
Another potential solution to Aspens transportation woes is a
light rail project. However, that effort was slowed by Aspen voters on a Nov. 2, $20
million bond initiative.
The $57-million project, part of a transportation improvement package
called Entrance To Aspen (ETA), would have shuttled passengers between downtown Aspen and
the Aspen airport, just under four miles away. The proposal would have allowed for future
expansion to the bedroom communities of Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, which are
all more than 30 miles down the Roaring Fork Valley.
According to a video that was contracted by Aspens public
officials, the cost of a light rail system between Glenwood Springs and Aspen, a 40-mile
stretch, would be $160 million. Funding would have to come from Aspen and Pitkin County
through bonds, Aspen assistant city administrator Randy Ready said, as well as federal
On the same Nov. 2 ballot, however, voters overwhelmingly said
"yes" to an advisory question, which asked if the issue should be revisited in
November of 2000.
According to Ready, the plans will likely be modified slightly, and the
issue will probably go back to Aspens voters next fall.
Ready pointed out that the project would also need approval from county
voters, which will likely be attempted next year.
Ready called this falls ballot a "test run."
"It gave us an idea of what people want," he said.
Another advisory question on the ballot asked voters where the
destinations for the light rail system should be. Many voters said they would like the
light rail to extend beyond the airport, farther down valley, Ready said. That may be
included in the modified plans next fall, he said.
The conception of the light rail project stemmed from an Environmental
Impact Statement (EIS) the Colorado Department of Transportation carried out in 1997,
Ready said. And currently, another countywide EIS is being conducted to help determine
what Roaring Fork Valley citizens want, Ready said. The draft EIS is expected to be
released in January.
The preferred alternative based on the Colorado transportation
departments EIS, Ready said, included moderate highway improvements, such as
restructured bridges and modest widening in certain sections; light rail; and better
management of things that affect highway travel, such as the availability of parking in
the destination end of the valley.
Parking is another big issue in Aspen.
On a typical winter day, Aspen Mayor Rachel Richards said, all parking
spaces in the city are taken.
For that reason, Aspen officials constructed a parking garage in the
city to help accommodate those who commute to the valley. However, all of Aspens
officials who gave presentations to the Wood River Valley officials said the construction
of the parking garage was a mistake.
The garage is a financial loser, Aspen planning administrator Julie Ann
In addition, the city has implemented an aggressive pay parking
strategy throughout the downtown area. Special computerized parking meters, called
Auto-Parq, can be hung from a vehicles rear view mirror and they can be prepaid.
Theres nowhere in Aspens downtown area someone can park
without paying, Aspen officials pointed out.
Ketchum city administrator Jim Jaquet said that pay parking is
something Ketchum could look into as an incentive for commuters to car pool or look to
alternative forms of transportation.
Ketchum Councilman Hall said, "I dont pretend that we have
Aspens parking problem, but we could."
Hall also said pay parking could be a way to reduce traffic congestion