Tuesday, February 25, 2020

RTA reconsiders transit station location in Gunnison

Delaying decision until 2021

By Katherine Nettles

While the Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) has narrowed down the locations for its new transit station in Gunnison to one preferred option, the RTA board of directors agreed last month to put off a decision after hearing objections from a Crested Butte resident that the process has lacked public input and failed to consider alternatives.

The discussion may also lead to more brainstorming about how to provide bus service to the airport in the future.

The board has identified a location on Spencer Avenue just south of the Gunnison Community Recreation Center as ideal for a transit center. It’s on the current RTA commuter bus route, near Western Colorado University, and fits other criteria listed in the draft document. The location of choice was an agenda item for the January meeting and the board was prepared to vote on a resolution to recommend it to the city of Gunnison for final approval.

But Crested Butte resident Jamie Walton addressed the RTA board at the meeting, asking them to engage in more public comment before making a final decision.

“I strongly encourage you not to accept the motion for that draft,” said Walton, citing that the informal review doesn’t qualify as public process and fails to consider other locations. Walton is a strong proponent of having the transit location at the airport. Under the current location, he argued, Crested Butte riders would need to actually change buses to get to the airport, and the Bustang riders who use the service between Gunnison and Denver would also be inconvenienced.

RTA director Scott Truex said the process is by no means a done deal, and will still go through the comprehensive planning process with the city of Gunnison. He acknowledged what Walton was saying about the public process, “and that is what we are doing here today,” said Truex.

“I don’t consider what the board has done to be public process,” said Walton. “This location was totally picked as an undocumented, informal board exercise. That hardly qualifies for spending millions of dollars of taxpayer money.

“I would have thought we would have all learned from the Brush Creek fiasco the problems that come from lack of public oversight,” Walton added. He also urged the RTA to consider in its mission the idea of joining air and bus travel.

“I’ve never understood why the RTA is so reluctant to join those two services,” he concluded.

“We are just making a recommendation,” said board chairperson Janet Farmer. “Then it goes to city council.”

“But I think your opinion carries a lot of weight with the city on this,” responded Walton.

“From an RTA perspective, operationally, having it on the current route at this location works,” said Truex. “We aren’t an airport shuttle—we are a commuter bus. There is a big difference.”

“And I think that’s where the failing is here, is that you’re not seeing yourselves correctly. Every person going in and out of the airport should be on a bus 10 years from now. That makes sense from traffic, parking, economy,” replied Walton. He made a case for thinking further into the coming years, and said the RTA needs to have a vision for how people will be moving through the valley.

Truex said, “I don’t disagree at all. I just don’t think the airport is the best location for our transit center.”

“That’s why I think it should go out to a public process so that more voices are heard and there are more people considering this,” said Walton.

RTA vice chairperson John Messner suggested the board hold an additional work session with the board on the topic. “I think there needs to be comment and discussion among this group,” he said.

Board member Roland Mason agreed that Walton had brought up good points, and that regardless of the transit center location, it would be helpful to consider options “on how to incorporate the airport with tourism and locals using the airport,” he said. “I think there’s options.”

Farmer recalled that she had wondered about the lack of an airport bus as well when she first moved to the valley, and she and Mason discussed the problems involved with matching flight arrivals and departures (and delays) to bus schedules, and how to manage “people’s expectations of how much luggage they can carry.”

Mason described the issues with visitors expecting a free shuttle, but then needing to wait for four to five hours for the next bus, even if it runs three times per day, and then being dropped off at another location instead of their rental or hotel.

“I’ve been on and off the board for almost 10 years. And I have thought the exact same things. We subsidize airlines. We deal with the airport quite a bit, and run the bus system … but that interchange is much more difficult,” said Mason.

This led to more board discussion of locating the transit center at the airport.

“I like the idea of having the transit center where it is located, but also having those other spokes that go out to other parts of the neighborhood,” said Mason, using Union Station in Denver as an example.

Board member Jim Miles chimed in, saying, “We don’t have a lot of options in Gunnison for a transit center. I understand that [interest in the airport], Jamie. We looked at that, and I originally also liked the airport location too.”

Truex explained that the chosen transit center location is also in consideration of the Bustang service to Denver, which primarily serves Western Colorado University students. Proximity to campus, the recreation center and business center of Gunnison are key.

“Maybe we can put in the time and effort for how to service the airport,” suggested Farmer.

The RTA has decided to postpone its decision until next year as it prepares to apply for grant funding for the project in 2022; Truex said the hope is to begin construction on the transit center in 2024 or 2025. 

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