Back in November, we noted a pending request from the Roaring Fork Transit Authority for $24 million in federal funding for bus system upgrades–left over from the plate of defeated Democratic Rep. John Salazar, one of of very first duties of Rep. Scott Tipton’s staff was to tell local officials “not to panic” about this request, but also maybe to not get real comfortable about it either. After Tipton’s election on a confused slate of fiscal promises up to and including “cutting the government in half,” you can understand why RFTA officials were kind of sweating.
Real Vail reported a couple of days ago, the need for these funds is getting urgent:
U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis – all Colorado Democrats – announced late last week that they have sent a letter to Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff, urging his agency to release funding for the VelociRFTA project in the Roaring Fork Valley in time for the short construction season. [Pols emphasis]
The Federal Transit Administration has identified the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s Veloci-RFTA project, which would create the first-ever rural bus rapid transit line, as a priority to receive $24 million out of a pool of $1.6 billion in transit funds appropriated by Congress this year. But the funding has yet to be made available. The lawmakers believe the bus line is a critical investment in the Roaring Fork Valley’s economy because it will provide one of the most efficient ways to get workers and visitors from town to town.
Polis represents Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes Vail but not Aspen. Republican Scott Tipton represents the 3rd Congressional District, which includes Aspen…
As the Glenwood Springs paper reports today, Rep. Tipton refused to support this request, citing a desire to cut “at least $15,000” from the $24 million asked for. The $15,000 cited is for a WiFi system for commuters using the upgraded RFTA service, which RFTA says they are paying a significant portion of anyway. In addition, Tipton’s spokesman vaguely states the letter sent by Rep. Jared Polis and Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet is “too rigid” in terms of asking for the full appropriation (that is, not wanting the bottom line cut).
In this story, it’s very clear that local officials are incensed at Tipton’s dithering over a tiny line item in their request. But the vague expressed desire to “review” the request with Tipton’s staff, and the uncertainty that introduces to the RFTA’s “shovel-ready” project, is a much more ominous prospect to them, and with very good reason–lack of basic understanding, like why WiFi service might make transit more appealing to commuters, thereby increasing ridership and revenue, doesn’t exactly portend useful engagement. And while Tipton picks at insignificant line items, the time they have in the high country to build while the ground is not frozen ticks away…
If we were a stakeholder in the Roaring Fork Transit Authority’s success, which is in turn tied to the economic prosperity of all the communities it serves, we might really start to wonder if there’s somebody better out there we could be working with.