The plan would be to blast a tunnel through the mountains for the most direct route.
But before a magical monorail system can be built to transport the considerable working population that spends each day driving up and down the mountains, representatives of each town have their own ideas of what might be the first priority of such an RTA.
For the representatives that attended the exploratory meeting, held near the only intersection in San Miguel or Ouray County with a traffic light (through which 7,000 cars pass daily), the priorities differed based on each town’s diverse socio-economic reality.
"We are definitely interested in a ground transportation effort," San Miguel County Commissioner Elaine Fischer told officials from Gunnison, Crested Butte, Montrose, Ouray, Ridgway, Mountain Village and Telluride.
But while ground transportation seems to be a high priority for Ridgway, Ouray and Telluride, Montrose is more interested in finding a source of stable funding for its airline guarantee program, and then, perhaps, using RTA funds for road and infrastructure needs.
Given its priorities, Kerby said that Montrose County might find it difficult to support additional taxation that might result from the creation of an RTA.
"We have significant funding challenges at the city and county level," he said. "We would be looking at the RTA as a funding mechanism for infrastructure and road improvement.”
This could mean that Montrose may not participate in an RTA, at least in the beginning.
"What I'm hearing are different priorities," Fischer said. "Montrose may not be able to participate due to sales tax concerns."
John Devore and Jim Schmidt spoke on behalf of the recently formed Gunnison County RTA. Telluride Town Manager Frank Bell, who worked for Crested Butte as its RTA effort reached various stages of development, also spoke.
Devore said the Gunnison/Crested Butte effort began in earnest in 2002, when the area's airline guarantee program was floundering.
"All towns were present to take a leadership role and take possession of our own destiny," he said. "We wanted a more unified air program for the community."
Outlining the process, Devore said Gunnison and Crested Butte were able to take advantage of state statutes to create both an RTA and a marketing district, the latter of which draws from a lodging tax that funds local marketing efforts. By forming an RTA, the area has been able to bolster its airline guarantee program with “permanent funding” – one of the buzz phrases for many officials at the meeting – as opposed to relying on pledges.
With an RTA board consisting of local elected officials, enabling new taxes to fund various projects, the Gunnison/Crested Butte effort has put 90 percent of its funds into its airline guarantee program. The remainder has funded a community shuttle bus system that runs in the winter and, to a lesser extent, in the summer months.
Because each funding effort requires voter approval, generating support through taxation requires each community to communicate successfully with its voters.
"The political hurdle is the importance of being able to convince the voters that we are all in this together," Bell said.
Also, he said, there is a need for focus early on.
Bell said an RTA concerns a broad swath of transportation needs for communities. It has "tentacles" that extend to all aspects of civic endeavor. It's critical, to have a "narrow focus," he said.
Prior to ending the meeting, those present agreed to meet again in the coming months. In the meantime, various parties from the three counties will gather figures on what the economic benefit of an RTA might bring, and hypothetical sales tax increases for the combined three counties.