Ski bus bill in uphill battle
A Democratic state senator from Boulder, Ron Tupa, has proposed residents of Vail, Beaver Creek and other ski areas along Interstate 70 fork over a portion of their sales-tax revenues to the Front Range’s Regional Transportation District to fund the bus, and politicians and others in the High County say the bus won’t do the mountains much good.
“This bill isn’t as bad as it looks –it’s worse,” says state Rep. Carl Miller, D-Leadville, who represents Eagle, Summit and Lake counties. “I think this bill is ridiculous.”
Miller says the mountains have traffic problems, particularly on Interstate 70 during busy ski weekends, but Tupa’s plan, which Miller described as a “sales-tax grab,” is definitely not the solution.
“We can do a better job managing our own resources,” Miller says. “We don’t need Front Range legislators with trickery and games.”
Eagle County’s representative in the state senate, Republican Jack Taylor, says he also isn’t enthusiastic about the proposal.
“If they’re going to do something, it should be more regular than weekends only,” Taylor says. “I still agree a monorail would be a much more efficient, faster way to go.”
Leaders in the local tourism industry also don’t see much merit to Tupa’s plan, however. Frank Johnson, president of the Vail Valley Chamber and Tourism Bureau, says the towns of Eagle County need their sales taxes for more pressing problems.
“There are so many local, internal community needs that can only be addressed by sales, I can’t imagine anybody would support using sales-tax revenues to fund a program that has so little relationship to our needs,” Johnson says.
Greyhound already runs buses up to Vail, and private companies have operated similar services, but neither have been used extensively by skiers, he says.
“We have bus transportation already, and it’s very inexpensive and most people don’t use it,” he says. “This plan is not well-conceived and, as far as I know, it hasn’t been discussed with any of communities being asked to jump on board.
“I can’t see where have any advantage for us,” he adds.
Johnson also says he doubts many Eagle County residents would vote to join a faraway transportation district.
Avon Town Councilman Ron Wolfe says none of the towns in the valley can afford giving up sales taxes during the current economic slump. Avon, for example, has had to cut its spending drastically this year because of sluggish sales-tax revenues – including its own ski shuttle to and from Beaver Creek, just two and a half miles away.
“I don’t think any towns in the resorts area can afford to deflect or redirect any sales tax to any new efforts,” Wolfe says. “That would not make a lot of sense.”
Investing sales tax in Front Range skiers may not provide a tremendous return –other than buying lift tickets, Wolfe adds.
“We already know that Front skiers, while certainly valuable and beneficial to the resorts, don’t tend to stay in town, shop in town, eat or spend any money,” Wolfe says. “Certainly, this is a big stretch based on what we’ve been able to figure out.”
Matt Sugar, director of community relations for Vail Resorts, says the company is concerned about traffic congestion, but this bill may not be the answer.
“We’re always interested and concerned about traffic problems on I-70,” Sugar says. “We’re always looking for ways to improve traffic on I-70, but we’re not sure this is the right avenue to do that.”
A spokeswoman for Colorado Ski Country USA, the lobbying group for the state’s ski resorts, has said other resorts are also eager to deal with congestion, but Tupa’s plan may not be the best way to do that.
Cory Mihm, spokeswoman for the Breckenridge Resort Chamber, says convincing High Country taxpayers to back the bus will be tough.
“”I don’t think there is a clear answer. The ski bus would be fantastic, but there have been attempts at private service and they no longer exist,” she says. “Traffic has increased, and potential users may be more open to the idea.”
High Country residents aren’t sure why they should fund a bus that would only run on weekends. Furthermore, Mihm says many go to the Front Range to shop – particularly for large things like stereos and mattresses – which makes riding a bus impractical, Mihm says.
Ski resorts and neighboring towns Tupa would add to the Regional Transportation District include Vail, Beaver Creek, Winter Park, Copper Mountain, Keystone, Breckenridge, Loveland and Arapahoe Basin. But the Regional Transportation District’s board opposes Tupa’s plan, claiming it takes in too much new territory too soon.
Miller says a tax increase is not the only way to solve traffic problems.
“We have transportation problems that we have to address for the High Country, but I don’t think people in resorts need a new tax,” Miller says.
Tupa’s bus, however, may already be out of gas –and it hasn’t yet made it out of the senate’s Transportation Committee, Taylor says.
“I think it’s going to have a serious problem getting out of there because it’s a stretch to get RTD out that far,” Taylor says. “It probably doesn’t have a great future.”
Miller says he agrees.
“A bill like that is going to get killed – it’s not going to see the light of day,” Miller says. “I don’t think the General Assembly is in any mood to raise taxes.”
Locally, Front Range bus a bust
A weekend ski bus from the Front Range is a flimsy solution to worsening traffic congestion – particularly when it comes with the price tag, locals say.
A Boulder senator’s proposal to fund a weekend bus between the Front Range and ski resorts with High Country sales tax appears unpopular in Eagle County.
“Denver can do it, not us,” says Cynthia Wizeman, a West Vail homeowner. “We have enough taxes already.
“The last time I was in Denver was November,” Wizeman adds. “I don’t spend a lot of time there.”
The proposal does not include fares or schedules, but the price and the time doesn’t seem to matter to Vail Valley residents. Steve McSpadden of Edwards says Tupa’s plan is an example of how far behind the state is on dealing with Interstate 70 traffic congestion.
“We should be working on the second solution right now, not just starting on the first,” McSpadden says.
The tax burden for such a bus shouldn’t fall on locals, he adds.
“This sounds like something Vail Resorts should be paying for,” McSpadden says.
Front Rangers don’t appear to have a problem getting to Vail, he adds.
“We’re getting record number of skiers, then obviously the problem of getting people from Denver to Vail isn’t a problem,” he says. “Look at the cars parked on the Frontage Road.”
But if the the bus brought more skiers and snowboarders to town, it would be a boost to the economy, says Ben Alexander, a Vail snowboard instructor.
“All in all, bringing more consumers to the valley to spend money – that’s definitely a plus,” Alexander says. “But it’s raising taxes, which no one likes. I think everyone pays enough taxes as it is.”
Alexander says he’s not likely to ride a weekend bus from Vail to the Front Range.
“I never go to Denver,” he says. “I only go to Denver to fly out.”
Joe Peplinski of Eagle-Vail says the benefits of the proposal may not be worth the price.
“One the one side, it would be nice to cut traffic,” he says. “But I’m not sure why we should pay for a guy saving four gallons of gas.”
A high-speed train or monorail would be much better than a weekend bus, he says.
“When they were talking about a high-speed train I thought that would’ve been great,” Peplinski says. “With this bus, I’d like know how trips there would be, how may people it would carry, because I’m not sure why we should subsidize it.”
In any case, it appears congestion on I-70 will remain. Terry O’Brien of Avon says he’s not sure how the bus will benefit locals, but congestion between Vail and the Front Range is only getting worse.
“There’s got to be something done,” O’Brien says. “I came up from Denver last Saturday night and I couldn’t believe the amount of traffic coming up this way.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.