Weekend ski bus breaks down
Following in the wake of the mountain monorail – rejected by voters last year – lawmakers have killed a far less ambitious proposal to run a bus between the Front Range and mountain ski resorts on weekends.
The bus route, which gained almost no support from mountain residents, would have been funded by tax hikes in both Front Range and High Country communities, becoming part of Denver’s Regional Transportation District, commonly known as RTD.
“On the one side, it would be nice to cut traffic,” said Joe Peplinski of Eagle-Vail. “But I’m not sure why we should pay for a guy from the Front Range saving four gallons of gas.”
The bus route also failed to gain support from the valley’s tourism industry.
“We have bus transportation already, and it’s very inexpensive and most people don’t use it,” said Frank Johnson, president of the Vail Valley Chamber and Tourism Bureau. “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 it has any advantage for us,” he adds.
Greyhound already runs buses up to Vail, and private companies have operated similar services, but neither have been used extensively by skiers, he says. Johnson also said few resort towns right now are willing to give up any tax revenues.
“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.
Even the agency being tapped to provide the service opposed the plan. Cal Marsella, RTD general manager, testified against the bill, saying it would have expanded the district too quickly at a time when his agency is cutting service.
The proposal also got a cool reception from Vail Resorts when the bus was first proposed a few weeks ago. Matt Sugar, director of community relations for Vail Resorts, said 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 said. “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.”
Some of the staunchest opposition came from Eagle County’s representatives in the Legislature: State Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, and State Rep. Carl Miller, D-Leadville.
“If they’re going to do something, it should be more regular than weekends only,” Taylor said. “I still agree a monorail would be a much more efficient, faster way to go.”
Miller had predicted the route’s rejection.
“I think this bill is ridiculous,” Miller said. “We can do a better job managing our own resources. We don’t need Front Range legislators with trickery and games.”
Avon Town Councilman Ron Wolfe said investing sales tax on Front Range skiers probably won’t provide a tremendous return – other than buying lift tickets.
“We already know that Front Range 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 said. “Certainly, this is a big stretch based on what we’ve been able to figure out.”
Ultimately, High Country residents weren’t sure why they should fund a bus that would only run on weekends. Most locals interviewed said they probably would never ride such a route.
Steve McSpadden of Edwards says the plan was an example of how far behind the state is on dealing with I-70 traffic congestion.
“We should be working on the second solution right now, not just starting on the first,” McSpadden says.
Either way, it appears congestion 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.
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