City request gets top billing

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With only one proposal, a local prioritization committee for Energy and Mineral Impact Assistance grants had an easy task of giving top billing to the city's request for $278,000 to purchase land for a future multimodal transit center.

The city of Steamboat Springs submitted an application for state Energy and Mineral Impact Assistance funds to help purchase 2 acres of industrial land next to the Depot Art Center off 13th Street. The city would match the grant funds with $137,000 of its own money.

City Manager Paul Hughes told committee members Tues--day that the city hopes to use the land for a commuter rail center between Craig and Steamboat. It also could be used as a center to bring passengers from the Front Range, he said.

"It is the last undeveloped piece of land adjacent to the railroad in downtown Steamboat Springs," Hughes said. "The land is (important) if we are to preserve future rail options."

The committee, which is composed of all three Routt County commissioners and representatives from the city, area coal mines and the towns of Yampa and Hayden and the city of Craig, approved the application, 6-1.

Ron Spangler, human re----

source manager with Twenty-mile Coal Co., cast the only no vote.

"There are other uses for the money that are more beneficial to the community in the near term," Spangler said.

Committee members wondered why the city needed to purchase the land now, when the possibility of rail use for commuters is years down the road.

City Director of Inter--governmental Services Linda

Kakela said Union Pacific Railroad officials had app--roached the city about purchasing the land and have a policy of first offering land to adjacent landowners. The city already owns the neighboring Depot property.

If the city does not act soon, the chance to buy it could be lost, Kakela said.

"There would be substantial pressure on that parcel," Kakela said.

Spangler asked why the rail center could not be located closer to the nearby Stock Bridge Multimodal Center. Kakela said the land next to the Stock Bridge center was in the floodway and is an environmentally sensitive area.

City officials pointed out that in the late 1990s, the Colorado Department of Trans-

portation had pegged the railroad between Craig and Steamboat as a pilot project for rail commuting. The concentration in population between the two cities and the existing infrastructure made it an attractive option, Kakela said.

However, shortly after the designation, Union Pacific Rail--road bought the line from Southern Pacific, and the mines increased their coal production and use of the railroad. Those two occurrences made adding commercial use to the tracks not feasible.

In the future, even with coal production continuing, Hughes said a commuter rail system could coexist with the coal cars.

Ben Beall, a former county commissioner who worked on a regional transportation plan, said he still sees a passenger rail in Colorado's future.

"We're not sure where gas prices are going to go. I still see, someday in the future, that we are going to have a passenger rail Colorado-wide," Beall said. "I see this as a great opportunity to get this parcel, to at least have some place to have a multimodal passenger rail system."

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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