A modest proposal: Public transportation for Grand County | SkyHiNews.com

A modest proposal: Public transportation for Grand County

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi Daily News

It would take $6.9 million in start-up costs and $5 million in operating costs to have a countywide transit system in Grand County.

Nine eighth graders confidently presented these figures Thursday to a roomful of spectators ” the culmination of a year’s worth of research.

With the help of teacher Abby Loberg, the students had practiced for two weeks in preparation for the presentation.

Their hard work paid off.

“Talking about this plan raises awareness, and students deserve a lot of credit because it’s something desperately needed,” said Ron Jones, owner of Winter Park’s Cooper Creek Square, following the presentation.

“I thought they did a fabulous job,” said Mike Fudge, manager of First Transit that operates fixed route buses through the winter to the ski area, Winter Park, Fraser and Granby. He told the audience the ingredient needed most to make inter-county transit a reality is agency cooperation. “A public system will not work unless all the towns come together. We need to get all of our governmental entities, cities and counties, together to figure out who’s on board and who’s not.”

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Since October, the students’ “Grand Transit” bus system proposal has been both a research project and an exercise in public relations.

It has its own Web site, has been discussed in radio commercials, seen on Channel 17 television commercials, written about in newspaper articles and depicted in student-drawn political cartoons. The class of 100 East Grand Middle School eight-graders researched, calculated and rationalized a topic, which county, town and resort officials have been chewing on themselves.

“Very well done,” said C.A. Lane, assistant general manager of Winter Park Resort after the presentation.

The resort along with the Town of Winter Park has been spearheading transportation studies detailing countywide transit since 2000.

“The (students) considered the operational costs, the capital investment, the taxing medium and the grant possibilities. I was very impressed,” Lane said.

Any hope of a transit system as defined by the students lies in a transportation study already kick-started by funding partners Winter Park, Fraser, Grand County and Winter Park Resort.

It is currently in the hands of consultants who are working to find out the feasibility of taking a private resort transit system and turning it into a public system implemented with federal funding. A Transportation Advisory Committee is being formed, and the study is set to be completed by the end of the year if not sooner, according to Winter Park Town Planner Drew Nelson.

The students analyzed Eagle and Summit county models for the scope of their study and found that both systems were implemented 20 years ago at a time when population sizes were comparable to Grand County’s population today.

Eighth-graders advocate year-round transportation with several stops throughout the entire county, a system supported by increased sales tax. Through sales tax, visitors, second-homeowners and full-time residents would foot the bill for the service.

“A public transit system would decrease traffic and pollution,” the proposal reads.

The students also researched solar-powered and bio-diesel busses for its transit system. If solar-powered, zero-emissions electric busses could be introduced in the city of Adelaide, Australia, why not here?

“With gas prices at over $3 per gallon, annual fuel costs could easily be over $1 million,” the Grand Transit study reads. “But, if we paid the up-front higher cost for solar buses, we would save that money in the long-run by never having to pay for gas.”

“It was a great experience,” said eighth-grader Marshall Simone. He did the bulk of grant research for the study and during the presentation, proposed arguments in favor of the transit system. “I’m hoping the eighth graders raised awareness, and I’m hoping it will get on the ballot and get passed. With the support of community members, I think that’s possible.”

Chris and Mike Lorton of Fraser attended the event to watch their eighth-grade daughter, Audra.

Chris said she evaluates the necessity of driving every time she hops into the family car.

A countywide transit system would not only save in the family’s pocketbook, but would save on impacts to the environment. A transit system would also provide opportunities for children in other communities not presently available without transportation, such as participation in Grand Lake’s youth theatre company during the summer.

“Some kids don’t participate because parents just can’t do (drive them),” the mother said.

Fudge commends the students’ proposal for raising awareness of the topic. A year-round system would help communities by providing more jobs, as well as providing reliable transportation to a growing population.

“They need to stay on their parents and grandparents and everyone about transportation to keep it on the forefront of everybody’s minds,” he said.

Students will get at least one more chance.

They are scheduled to present the study for a final time at the May 20 school board meeting at the East Grand School District office behind the Middle Park High School.

The meeting is open to the public.

” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail tbina@grandcountynews.com.

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