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RFTA Access Control Plan back before board

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By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer

The controversial Access Control Plan (ACP) or the Rio Grande Trail right-of-way is expected to win final approval by the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority board May 11, according to recent statements by RFTA’s CEO, Dan Blankenship.

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If it is approved, that will bring to an end nearly two years of wrangling over the document, which is meant to lay out RFTA’s policies regarding crossings and land uses along the trail right-of-way, as a way of preventing actions by neighboring landowners or governments from interfering with preservation of the right of way for the possible resumption of rail service in the Roaring Fork Valley.

The ACP was first created in 2000, three years after the then-controlling agency, the Roaring Fork Railroad Holding Authority (RFRHA), paid $8.5 million for the 34-mile stretch of the old Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad (D&RGW) right of way, between Woody Creek and Glenwood Springs, which no longer was being used as a freight line following the closure of coal and iron-ore mines in the area.

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The old rail line was “railbanked” in 1998, to preserve it for the possible resumption of rail service in the Roaring Fork Valley. The rails were pulled and sold off, and the strip of land was converted to its current use as a bicycle and pedestrian trail stretching from Aspen to Glenwood Springs.

The ACP is a required document under federal rail-banking guidelines, as a way to ensure the right of way would be preserved and protected from incursions by adjacent governmental entities and private landowners, which if allowed could cause the federal Surface Transportation Board to cancel seven miles of federal land-grant parcels along the right of way and threaten the existence of the trail and any future resumption of rail service.

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It is supposed to be updated every five years, as it was in 2005, but a 2010 update was put off while RFTA inaugurated its Bus Rapid Transit system for speedier bus service up and down the valley.

The update has now been underway for more than a year-and-a-half, but the first draft initially drew strong objections from some municipal members of the RFTA board, including Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, which were worried the ACP’s restrictions on crossings were too onerous.

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RFTA has since revised some of the policies and concepts in the ACP, with the result that Carbondale officials are satisfied that the ACP, as it is now, is acceptable.

But, confirmed RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship on May 2, Mayor Steve Skadron of Aspen has raised objections about the revisions, which he fears may not be strong enough to preserve the rail corridor from incursions that might threaten its rail-banked status.

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If Skadron continues to object, it could threaten passage of the ACP, which must be unanimously supported by the original seven member communities of RFTA — Carbondale, Basalt, Glenwood Springs, Snowmass Village, Aspen, Pitkin County and Eagle County..

Still, Blankenship said, “I’m optimistic. Mayor Skadron is a reasonable man.” Blankenship predicted that once Skadron is certain the ACP is sufficient to protect the corridor, he will vote to approve the document.

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“We’re just trying to protect this thing,” Blankenship said, “because it is an incredibly valuable asset, and so many people enjoy it so much.”

Published in The Sopris Sun on May 4, 2017.