RIDGWAY – An effort to develop a commuter transit plan for the Western Slope from Delta to Ouray, Telluride and the West End began with a special kick-off meeting at the Ouray County 4-H Event Center on Aug. 13 in Ridgway. With the selection of a consultant and the tacit approval of a draft intergovernmental agreement, the transit system is in the nascent stages. However, preliminary discussions indicate that the transit plan would likely be characterized by a shuttle system and buses for commuters from as far away as Delta.
Kyle Kosman, of LSC Transportation Consultants, was the winning bidder for the consulting contract and the moderator of the meeting. Montrose County will coordinate the effort, which is targeted for completion in February 2009.
“It’s becoming such a huge issue that we really need public officials to address it. It’s the inception of what we really have to do,” said Montrose County Commissioner Gary Ellis.
Participants in the study include officials and staffers from the principal counties of Delta, Montrose, Ouray, and San Miguel, as well as the towns of Olathe, Nucla, Naturita, Norwood, Telluride, Mountain Village, Ouray, Ridgway, and Delta. Paul Gray, Region 10 Director, and Vince Rogalski, representing the Gunnison Valley Transportation Planning Region, were also in attendance.
“This study is only the first broad brush stroke and is the very start of a very long process. It is a feasibility study only and could well involve five years of negotiating – something that is not totally dependent on whether we have 500 or 600 riders,” remarked San Miguel County Administrator Lynn Black.
In October 2007, the Colorado Department of Transportation awarded Montrose County a $28,000 grant to hire a consultant. An additional $6,194 will be contributed by participating communities, referred to as Working Group members, bringing the total funding for the study to $34,194.
Questions were posed to all 20 members present at the Aug. 13 meeting about what issues their communities face involving transit in general. Rogalski noted a “cultural shift,” saying that state authorities at the Colorado Department of Transportation are planning inner-city bus service and that a rail study is underway for Denver for the I-25 and I-70 corridors.
“For the Ouray-Ridgway corridor, this is the very cream filling in the middle of a sandwich. We’re on that corridor to housing further north, and to relieve that pressure from transit traffic going through is our principal issue,” said Ouray County Commissioner Keith Meinert.
Black informed the group that at present Telluride has two shuttle buses to Norwood and one bus to Montrose and Ridgway, and that the cost for Telluride is $250,000 per year. “And we lose $50,000,” she said. Other issues are long distances and snowy mountainous conditions. “And you can’t find people who want to go to work at the same time.” Black added that Telluride has lost workers because of transportation costs. “They can take a less paying job in Montrose and have three hours more time for their business,” she said.
Joanne Fagan, engineer for the Town of Ridgway, noted the serious impacts to the town from large amounts of through-traffic.
“We can’t take it,” said Fagan, “as far as the load and environmental impacts and everyone being in a motor vehicle.”
City Administrator Patrick Rondinelli reported that the impact of second-home ownership and a limited economy makes it essential that a transit system be established. “We don’t have the economy to support that for tourism or the Ouray dwellers to travel to other locations,” he said. He added that there were two fatalities on the Dallas Divide in recent weeks that he attributed to the increasing volume of traffic.
“We know that these corridors are dangerous,” said Montrose County Manager Joe Kerby. “The question is, how do we assure affordable and convenient formalized locations for park-and-rides?”
Rondinelli underscored the serious need for a transit system to Ouray: “Ouray is so dependent on tourism. We’re getting more regional travelers, but people are struggling to survive in Ouray.”
Greg Sparks, representing Mountain Village, cited the high cost of housing as proof positive for the need of a transit system. “We run 13 shuttles seven days per week out of pocket, which costs $90,000 to $100,000 per year. We prefer a regional transportation system.”