Long-range Bustang plans boost Rifle roundabout | VailDaily.com

Long-range Bustang plans boost Rifle roundabout

Ryan Hoffman
rhoffman@citizentelegram.com

Rifle might be getting its long-planned roundabout just north of Interstate 70 sooner than anticipated thanks to Bustang, the regional state-run transit service.

The city is allocating $5 million in its 2017 budget for the roundabout project, which dates back to 2003 when voters approved a $4.1 million bond issue for street improvements. At the time the city anticipated three roundabouts near the primary exit on I-70 — the two existing roundabouts and another directly north of the interstate — along with street improvements elsewhere in the city.

However, estimates for the roundabouts were much lower than the actual costs. The two roundabouts alone were approximately $2.7 million, and the third was delayed indefinitely, City Manager Matt Sturgeon explained.

The city, in a street improvement plan presented to City Council earlier this year, intended to revisit the third roundabout in 2019, but recent conversations with the Colorado Department of Transportation moved those plans ahead in the project pecking order.

Specifically, CDOT allocated $2 million to help construct a park-and-ride that has been included in the overall roundabout project.

Although the park-and-ride would serve several benefits, including being used for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority's Hogback route, the ultimate hope is to use it as a stop for a future expansion of the popular Bustang service to Grand Junction, according to Mark Imhoff, transit and rail director for CDOT.

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"We do have a hope and a plan to extend Bustang to Grand Junction one day," he said.

When CDOT launched Bustang in July 2015 it included one bus ride per day to and from Denver and destinations along the state's primary transportation corridors: I-70 and Interstate 25. The I-70 mountain line, as it's known, currently goes as far west as Glenwood Springs, while the I-25 corridor runs north to Fort Collins and as far south as Colorado Springs.

The service has proven popular, especially in the mountain corridor where CDOT added an additional bus between Vail and Denver this past September.

"The west corridor is the most successful line," said Amy Ford, CDOT communications director.

A ways away

The construction of the new roundabout and park-and-ride, as well as a future expansion of Bustang, is likely several years away.

With the three-month Grand Avenue bridge replacement slated for the fall of 2017, Rifle intends to ask CDOT if it can carry over the $2 million in funding — the motive for jump starting the project — to 2018 in order to reduce the impact on commuters. Members of City Council expressed that desire during recent budget workshops.

"We want to take advantage of funding made available from the state, but we really want to work hard with the state to try and coordinate this so that it's not happening with the Grand Avenue project," Sturgeon said in summarizing recent budget discussions with council.

Regardless of the bridge, the discussions are still in the early stages, and it is unlikely all the parties involved would be ready to start construction in the summer of 2017, Imhoff said. Development designs must be finalized, and the involved agencies must agree on funding sources.

"It takes some time, and, even if the Grand Avenue bridge is completed, it's doubtful we'd be ready for construction next summer," Imhoff stated.

Regarding expansion of Bustang, that also is unlikely in the very immediate future.

The $2 million allocated for the park-and-ride is one-time grant funding. Expanding Bustang operations would require sustained funding at a time when money is scarce.

Bustang aims to further part of CDOT's mission to reduce traffic by offering affordable mass transit connecting major economic centers across the state. The hope would be to expand service to places such as Grand Junction to the west and Pueblo to the south.

"It's a good plan — it does cost money, and we have a very limited budget," Imhoff said.

The fact was all the more evident earlier this year when a bill put forward in the Colorado Senate would have reallocated the funds used for mass transit in Colorado, including Bustang, to more traditional infrastructure projects. Officials at the time said the bill, if passed, would effectively eliminate Bustang. The Republican sponsored bill passed the Senate but was postponed indefinitely in a Colorado House committee.

Beyond funding, there also is the matter of competing with private business. Currently, Greyhound operates a service from Grand Junction to Denver.

"That service is ongoing, and we [CDOT] really try not to compete with the private sector," Imhoff said.

CDOT and Greyhound, according to Imhoff, are in discussions about an agreement that would allow a customer to purchase a ticket with the appearance of a Bustang ticket through the Greyhound website.

"That's our first step along the way to implement service all the way to Grand Junction," Imhoff said.

Delaying other projects

Locally, stepped up efforts on Rifle's third roundabout could push back other street projects planned in the coming years.

In 2015, Rifle voters narrowly approved a question granting the city the ability to borrow up to $5 million for street improvement projects. Following direction from City Council, staff devised a broad street improvement plan that would allow the city to make necessary improvements without borrowing money in the immediate future.

Instead the city would use its robust street improvement fund that benefited from a $5.6 million payment in 2014 from CDOT to the city for accepting ownership of segments of Colorado 6 and Colorado 13 — a process referred to as devolution.

Projects were staggered in order to allow the city to rebuild the fund balance and replenish the devolution dollars earmarked for improvements to and maintenance of the portions of state highways now under the city's ownership.

With the roundabout project potentially moving up, other projects, particularly those in 2018, will likely have to be postponed, according to Sturgeon.

The $5 million budgeted for the project, which also includes building another waterline to south Rifle in order to improve redundancy in the municipal water system, is a rough engineers estimate, and the city does intend on pursuing grants for the project.

Overall the roundabout is 80 percent designed thanks to an $806,618 Community Challenge Planning Grant awarded to the city by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2010.

While there were some concerns among councilors at a budget meeting last week regarding the timing of construction, there was general excitement about moving forward with the project.

"That's probably the most important project in my mind, the roundabout," Mayor Randy Winkler said at the meeting. "Let's get things going."

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