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Editorials
For the week of Mar. 15 through Mar. 21, 2000

Valley needs a transit study


The pieces that will help the valley solve its transportation puzzle are beginning to fall into place. However, two groups looking at the valley’s traffic congestion may be one step ahead of themselves.

A group of local elected officials has formed to study creation of a county-wide transit authority. Also, the Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission is talking about using paid parking, outlying parking lots and a future underground parking garage to control congestion.

Both are good ideas, but they jump the gun. What the county needs is—yes, we hear the sighing—another study. Before the area jumps into a complex transit authority, before Ketchum invests in its first parking meter, we need to find out if the time is right for either step.

Everyone knows that something’s got to give on Highway 75. What happens is a matter of choice and timing. A five-lane highway may not be the single cheapest, easiest or safest answer to the valley’s traffic woes in the long run.

We can look to other ski resorts for answers, but even though they have similar problems, their circumstances are often not the same.

For example, Aspen is served by a single highway that runs up the Roaring Fork Valley. Most of that highway was widened from two lanes, but ultimately widening wasn’t enough. Aspen and Pitkin County also developed a huge commuter bus system, running up to 900 bus trips a day into Aspen. Aspen also has paid parking and has been debating building a light rail line for commuters.

Sun Valley and the Wood River Valley are peanut-sized resort areas compared to Aspen. In 1998-99, Aspen did more than 1.2 million skier days, compared to Sun Valley’s slightly more than 400,000.

What the size disparity means as far as the Wood River Valley’s ability to support a county-wide bus system is anyone’s guess. That’s why before anyone jumps into paid parking or a transit authority, local governments need to band together and pay for a thorough transit study.

The timing is right.

The upcoming release of a the state’s Highway 75 corridor study will contain traffic counts and congestion projections upon which a county-wide transit study could build. Building a transit study on top of the highway corridor study will save time and money.

Local governments will soon begin to set their budgets for the coming year. The group formed to study creation of a transit authority should get some bids from transit consultants and figure out how the cost of the study could be split.

A bigger highway may help ease the pain of commuting, but unless we want to pave the entire valley floor, more will be needed in the long run. Just what we will need and when is something for the experts.

 

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