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Next stop, Aspen?

Matt Zalaznick

Sitting in a bus, you could drift as deeply as you want into a daydream of the hawks and falcons soaring over the ridges, as well as save on gas and help the environment.

Eagle County’s ECOtransit system, in fact, may be adding the trek through the canyon to Glenwood Springs to its collection of routes, linking riders up with the Roaring Fork Transit Authority, RFTA, whose buses can take folks as far as Rifle and Aspen.

“It can be a pretty treacherous canyon in the winter time to try and negotiate the sharp curves and icy highway,” says Jim Lair, director of the Eagle County Regional Transit Authority, or ECO. “We’d be doing our part to reduce congestion in the canyon by combining riders onto one public vehicle.”

Creating the route to Glenwood Springs is pretty much up to riders. ECO is now asking for e-mails and phone calls from people who are interested in riding the bus between Eagle County and Glenwood Springs, Lair says.

“We want to determine the interest. It’s one thing to say, “Build it and they will come.’ It’s another thing to have some numbers to give you an idea of what ridership will be,” Lair says. “The riders will justify the expense.”

ECO got the idea to expand to the west when RFTA itself extended west by creating a route to take riders out to Rifle, a leg known as the “Hogback Route,” Lair says.

“If we connect with RFTA now, with their Hogback Route, bus passengers from Rifle and Aspen will be able to travel all the way to Vail,” Lair says. “That could be a boon for our retailers and employers.”

ECO is considering a morning and evening trip through Glenwood Canyon, which would pick up Silt, New Castle, Rifle and Aspen commuters in Glenwood Springs and bring them to Eagle County. The Hogback bus pulls into the Glenwood Springs mall at 6:18 a.m.

“We’ve got a number of employees that work at the Eagle County Administration Building that live in Rife, Glenwood and New Castle that have expressed interest in getting public transportation to get back and forth,” Lair says. “We have to determine if there’s enough interest to support a bus or two to go back and forth through the canyon.”

ECO is negotiating with RFTA on who will operate the morning and evening routes. For example, Lair says, ECO could run the morning bus and its counterpart in Glenwood Springs could operate the evening bus.

“We’re interested in making the connection work,” RFTA Transit Planner Mike Davis says.

But justifying service based on ridership projections can be tricky business, Lair says.

According to 1990 census figures, a total of 1,990 Eagle County residents commuted west -1,692 to work in Pitkin County, and 298 to Garfield County. According to the same figures, 544 Garfield County residents and 193 Pitkin County residents commuted to work in Eagle County.

“That data is too outdated,” Lair says. “Eagle County and Garfield County have changed considerably since then.”

Accurate information on the number of people commuting between the three counties may not be available until the fall.

Lair says, however, he thinks ECO cannot get an accurate picture of how many people are commuting between the three counties by launching a telephone survey. Trying to catch the passengers from the three counties who would be interested and affected is too time-consuming and expensive, he says.

“At this point in our decision-making process, I want to hear from people in the three counties,” he says. “This will help determine whether or not we give it a try, having ECO buses go to Glenwood Springs.”

The heavy-duty buses ECO would operate through the canyon would not have problems with the sometimes icy and windblown stretch of Interstate 70, Lair says

“They stay to road better than some small sedans that traverse the canyon every day,” Lair says.

A fare for a Glenwood Springs route has not been determined, but the other route that ECO operates out of the Eagle County –to Leadville –costs riders $3 one-way, Lair says.

The route would not only let workers leave their cars at home, but give Eagle County employers seeking employees a whole new batch of people to pick from, says ECO Board Chairwoman and Avon Town Councilwoman Debbie Buckley says.

“I hope it will really benefit the employers in the valley, give them a bigger pool of employees to draw from,” Buckley says. “We’re willing to take the lead and initiate it, if there’s interest on both sides of the canyon.”

Interested?

– Residents who want to express interest in a bus route from Eagle County to Glenwood Springs, Aspen and Rifle can contact ECO Transit Planner David Johnson by phone at (970) 328-3524, or via e-mail at djohnson@eagle-county.com.

– Folks can also fill out the comment form on the Eagle County Web site: http://www.eagle-county.com/ecotransit/comments.html.

Matt Zalaznick covers public safety, Eagle County Courts and Avon/ Beaver Creek. He can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at mzalaznick@vaildaily.com.


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