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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Friday — May 21, 2004


Looking for the fast lane

Aspen’s experience: kissin’ cousin to Blaine’s traffic woes?

Express Staff Writer

Although recited by an outsider from Colorado, the story being told this week in the Wood River Valley sounded painfully familiar:

A growing population in a ski resort area struggles daily with ever-increasing commuter traffic along a too-narrow highway connecting a string of towns.

But the solution to that problem on Colorado State Highway 82, between Glenwood Springs and Aspen, has become a model of aggressive community action that is being suggested as a matrix for solving Idaho State Highway 75’s increased traffic problems in the Wood River Valley.

A principal in the Colorado project, Ralph Trapani, then a Colorado state Transportation Department engineer and now a private consultant, was in the valley this week meeting with civic groups and government officials to explain how the Highway 82 problem was tackled and solved.

His visit and an undisclosed fee was sponsored and paid from private funds raised by the Citizens Transportation Coalition, Citizens for Smart Growth and Wood River Rideshare.

In many ways, Colorado Highway 82 project and the Wood River’s Highway 75 improvement program share eerie similarities.

In Colorado, the worst stretch of Highway 82 was 18 miles between Basalt to just outside Aspen. The Wood River Valley’s worst traffic is the stretch between Hailey and Ketchum, just 8 miles.

In quick order, Trapani told a small but rapt audience of fewer than 50 Tuesday night at the Community Center auditorium that public officials and civic groups in two Colorado counties were energized into partnerships and action when confronted with the prospect of gridlock that could cripple the area’s economy.

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority was formed to plan and implement a solution using multiple transportation modes, he said. This led to a sweeping redesign of the 18-mile problem stretch, obtaining funding for a $250 million widening of the highway, passage of a sales tax to operate RFTA and a continuing study of how to maintain reduced traffic levels.

Some $100 million of the total was concentrated just on bridging a three-mile stretch over a canyon. The entire Highway 75 project in the Wood River Valley is expected to cost $110 million, although no funds have been appropriated and an environmental impact statement has not been completed.

Trapani is especially high on high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes for busy highways. He said that 44,900 vehicle trips originally counted prior to opening of an HOV lane and introduction of a regular bus schedule has been reduced to 28,000 today.

(The Utah consulting firm of Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas, which is conducting the Highway 75 environmental study, calculates a flow of 18,500 vehicles a day in an eight-mile stretch between Hailey and Elkhorn Road, and projects 27,000 by the year 2025.)

RFTA operates a fleet of some 50 buses, Trapani said, carrying an estimated 4 million commuters per year. Wood River Rideshare has two buses at most in operation.

Trapani said in addition to the widened four lanes on Highway 82 and an HOV lane for peak hour commute traffic three hours in the afternoon and morning, the project also built pedestrian and bike trails, promoted car pooling, built a series of park-and-ride lots that’ll accommodate 3,050 cars by the year 2015 and set aside land for a possible future light rail transit system.

He warned, however, that implementing a HOV lane, which is one of the proposals being studied for the Wood River Valley, "is not as easy as painting a diamond (symbol) on the road." He said Colorado state police have helped with rigid enforcement to stop single occupant vehicles from using the reserve lane.

He also said that success for reducing vehicle traffic and increase car-pooling is developing a set of incentives and disincentives to get drivers out of their cars.

He cited one incentive: commuters who use buses are guaranteed a quick ride home in a special vehicle in an emergency.

He also said that paid downtown parking in Aspen--"never popular," he added—was a disincentive.

Absolutely essential to any solution is a partnership of area governments and civic groups. Trapani said he believes current Idaho laws would prevent formation of an authority with legislative and taxing powers to manage a regional multi-modal transportation system.

However, the job isn’t ended with completion of a roadway, Trapani said. What he calls transportation demand management must continue, including studying the linkage between land use and transportation demands.

Peter Everett, a Pennsylvania State University professor of marketing and a part-time Ketchum resident, posed a theory whose implications Trapani agreed needs study.

Everett pointed to the trend of homebuyers purchasing less expensive properties in remote areas, but thereafter paying more in transportation costs to reach jobs or to retail areas; whereas, others purchase more expensive property in towns and pay less for transportation.


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