Van service would give South Routt commuters another option

County, Sierra Club match federal grant

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— The Routt County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday accepted a check for $13,435 from the Trapper’s Lake Chapter of the Sierra Club to help match a federal grant for two years of commuter van service from the South Routt communities of Oak Creek and Stagecoach to Steamboat Springs and back.

“We know there’s a lot of commuter traffic, and getting people out of cars into mass transit reduces their carbon footprint and makes roads” more efficient, said Rich Levy, chairman of the Trapper’s Lake Chapter of the Sierra Club.

The van service would allow people commuting daily between Steamboat and South Routt to leave their cars in their driveways and opt for a $6 round trip fare. A request for proposals was sent to local and regional transportation businesses, and the county expects responses by the middle of January.

Levy said the Sierra Club’s share of the grant match would come from funds still in its treasury dating to a successful lawsuit and 1998 settlement over emissions from the Hayden Station power plant. He said the funds were left over after completion of a four-year project to install 1.5-kilowatt solar panels at six public schools in Northwest Colorado came in under budget.

The Sierra Club funds represent half of the local match needed to fund two years of commuter van service.

Routt County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush originally applied for the grant from the Federal Transportation Ad­­ministration in 2007, and it was awarded in September. At the time, she was concerned that the county’s current fiscal crisis would prevent it from being able to justify the required grant match.

“We weren’t sure we had the money for the match. I asked all of the big employers with employees commuting to Steamboat, but given their own budget constraints they weren’t able to participate,” Mitsch Bush said. “Then, the Sierra Club graciously stepped forward.”

Commuters initially would ride in 12-passenger vans with comfortable seats and perhaps amenities such as reading lights. They will be asked to pay for a month’s worth of trips (five days a week) in advance.

The first van route would tentatively travel from Stagecoach to Steamboat Springs at about 6 a.m. and return from Steam­boat Springs at about 6 p.m.

The second route would be from Oak Creek to Steamboat, again leaving at about 6 a.m. and returning from Steamboat to Oak Creek in the early evening.

The project manager and the van company would work together to modify schedules and stops to meet the needs for commuters based on rider surveys, Mitsch Bush said.

Before the grant was awarded, Mitsch Bush oversaw a feasibility demand study undertaken by LSC Consultants. It quantifies the need for service, sustainable operational costs and appropriate passenger fees, she said.

The county has the ability to opt out of the service after two months. And if a provider cannot be identified to meet the terms of the county’s contract under the grant amount, the project would not go forward.

This is not the first time local governments have supported public transportation between Steam­­boat and South Routt. Go Alpine operated a similar service in the late 1990s and into the beginning of this decade. Interest in that service, in an era of cheap gasoline, steadily declined.

The federal grant was passed through the Colorado Depart­ment of Transportation.

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