Winter Park breaks ground on new transit center

Representatives from Winter Park, Grand County, The Lift transit system, the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Federal Transit Administration who spoke at the Winter Park transit center's groundbreaking ceremony do what they came to do — break ground.
Kyle McCabe/Sky-Hi News

Winter Park broke ground July 7 for its new transit center on land where Dog Sled Rides of Winter Park used to take visitors on sled rides. Town manager Keith Reisberg hosted the event, which featured speakers from the town of Winter Park, Grand County, The Lift transit system, the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Federal Transit Administration.

Phase one of the transit center will cost $23 million to complete. Reisberg said federal and state grants will cover $14.6 million, while the town will use $2 million from fund reserves and $7 million from bonds to pay the rest. 

Impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic on construction costs led to the project being split into two phases, Reisberg said. Winter Park has applied for $12 million in grants to fund the second phase and would have to put up around $2 million more to completely finance it. The majority of the transit center will be completed in the first phase, resulting in the higher initial cost.

“If we aren’t successful in getting the grant, phase one will still allow us to operate the system and meet the needs of the system,” Reisberg said. “We can continue on without having that second phase.”

Reisberg said Winter Park expects construction of phase one to finish in fall 2023, at which time Winter Park Resort will take control of the bus barn property off Winter Park Drive in Old Town Winter Park. The current Cooper Creek Transit Center will continue to serve the Lift system.

Speakers at the groundbreaking highlighted advantages the new center will have over the old one. One speaker, Michael Koch, ran The Lift from 2016-2020 as transit manager for the town, completely reshaping the Winter Park transit system. He said the new facility will house, shelter and protect vehicles, provide training and workspace for employees and help The Lift electrify its fleet.

Cindy Terwilliger, a regional administrator for the Federal Transit Administration, spoke at the event. She said she met Koch in 2018 and visited the site of the future transit center as well as the current one where she saw buses parked outside, exposed to snow, rain and inclement weather.

“Vehicles really hardly even fit in the facilities,” Terwilliger said. “I felt so bad for the mechanics because they couldn’t even put a vehicle on a lift to actually work on it inside because of the height of the current facility.”

Jan Rowe, an assistant director of transit programs at CDOT, called Grand County the “unofficial icebox of the nation,” and said having the buses housed indoors will help them start more reliably so the transit system can be more reliable in general. He also said the improved working space will also help attract and retain talented workers.

The speakers also focused on the future electrification of the fleet, which Winter Park plans to complete by 2035. Rich Cimino, a Grand County Commissioner, voiced the county’s support of electrification during his speech, saying it will help keep air and water cleaner in the area. 

Cimino mentioned the agreement between the county and Winter Park for the new facility’s land. The town is leasing the 12 acres off County Road 5 for $10 per year in a 50 year agreement with Grand County.

“We think it is a very reasonable rate,” Cimino said. “It’s a no brainer. It was unanimous, and we’re glad to be able to have this land for this use.”

Multiple speakers also mentioned the possibility expanding routes as a benefit of the new transit center. Winter Park Mayor Nick Kutrumbos said expansion would not be possible without the new facility. 

“We still have a lot of work to do,” Kutrumbos said. “This isn’t a complete system yet, and I think the goal of the original town council was to make sure that we had a sustainable, year-round public transit system that was fully integrated into the county.”

The Lift system currently services Winter Park, Fraser and Granby, but Reisberg said Grand Lake has asked for the line to expand north to that town as well. Reisberg said the free bus service has not met that request because of reliability issues exasperated by the current transit center.

“The last thing you want to do is (say), ‘Yeah, we’ll expand service, but our buses don’t start in the morning, and as a result, they’re not able to get where they need to,’” Reisberg said. “Until we could do a reliable system as part of the operation, we can’t expand service.”

Besides increasing reliability of the current 27 buses in the system’s fleet, the new facility also allows for a potential fleet expansion, Reisberg said. Service expansion could also target workforce housing complexes, which often request public transportation service since not every worker has their own car.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct an error that labeled the wrong property as what will revert to Winter Park Resort ownership once the new transit center is complete.

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