Munro — Public transportation: Can Grand County get there from here?
Cartoonist Rob Pudim is onto something with this week’s offering. When people start talking about public transportation in Grand County, serious consideration almost always gets “high centered” as soon as the funding issue is broached.
Every effort ought to be made to prevent that from happening as this new transportation planning process is undertaken.
I suggest this because I can think of only one thing that might do more to enhance the livability and, perhaps, the economy, of Grand County than a decent public transportation system. The “other thing” is an institution of higher learning, which is another matter altogether.
Having witnessed firsthand last year how public transportation works in Garfield and Pitkin counties, it’s clear to me having a system here would connect our communities in ways well beyond what one might expected from an otherwise pedestrian bus system.
I’ve talked to countless residents here who would gladly more regularly visit, say, Winter Park or Grand Lake but for having to drive back after dinner or a show. Too far, too snowy, too dark, too much libation while there: Pick an excuse; they are legion and they prevent this county from “connecting” in fundamental ways.
In Garfield or Pitkin, it is commonplace to hop on a bus for a 40-mile one-way trip from Glenwood Springs to Aspen to go to dinner or a show, or to ride a bicycle one way on the river trail, or to get to a trailhead, or to visit friends and family, or, more mundanely, to get to a job.
The Roaring Fork Transit Authority links communities not just physically, but economically. It makes the otherwise disparate communities that much closer — in both directions.
I know, I know. Many of you are by now in full eye-roll mode: Grand County is not Garfield County, much less Aspen. Heaven forfend. And we don’t want to be. Trust me, I get that. But it doesn’t mean Grand County can’t have a workable transportation system.
We may not want the congestion or cost of living or any of the other baggage that comes with “Aspenization.” But if we want to be able to get from one end of the county to the other inexpensively, reliably and efficiently, we do need the political will to make it happen.
And that means the dreaded T word.
Because at the end of the day, it is simply not possible to make a financially viable public transit system based solely on user fees, even under the best of circumstances. And the 1,800-plus square miles of Grand County with 14,000 or 15,000 people living here is far from the best of circumstances, public transportation-speaking.
So a taxing district would be formed through a vote of the electorate and a tax —take your pick, sales or property — would be levied before the buses could roll. And here, really, Grand County is ideally suited in some respects. Tourists spend a lot of money in our shops, restaurant and lodges, and second homes comprise in excess of 60 percent of the houses here. Either way, most of the cost would be paid by non-residents.
Yet, it’s no easy sell. I’m wondering if Grand County has reached the stage where it’s ready to take that bold leap.
Planes and trains
On a closely related front, Amtrak is said to be poised to consider expanding train service in Grand County, but reliable ground transportation would be needed to augment said service. Judging by the wild success of the two promotional Winter Park Ski Trains that operated last month, it appears demand for train service to the ski area is robust, to say the least.
Now imagine this: Land at DIA, gear in tow, hop on soon-to-be completed light rail to Union Station, take Amtrak to Winter Park, Fraser or Granby, jump on a bus to your destination, and then relish the prospect of being able to take public transportation to other parts of the county. All without renting a car. All without traversing an inch of perpetually gridlocked I-70.
No other Colorado mountain resort offers an experience remotely similar or free of the interstate bottleneck. Heck, even Aspen might be jealous.
Just a thought.
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