Vail Daily Editorial: Transportation authority is an opportunity to build for the future

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  • Vail Daily Editorial: Transportation authority is an opportunity to build for the future

Whether you’re a local employee trying to get to work on time (and back home by a reasonable hour), a visitor looking for easy ways to navigate to and from local resorts and businesses, or you’re looking for a more climate-friendly option for transit, public transportation should be a service that makes life easier, not harder.

However, as identified by local business owners, economic councils and municipal leaders in 2020, public transit has been failing to meet a lot of the Eagle River Valley’s most pressing needs for a while.

This is why a regional effort sprung up in 2021 to see how a new transportation authority could solve not only a large workforce challenge but bring an improved experience for residents and guests alike. This effort combined stakeholders from eight local governments, numerous employers (big and small) across the valley, existing transit agencies in the county, and community organizations — all working toward a singular goal.

The end result: a ballot question in front of voters this November asking them to form the Eagle Valley Regional Transportation Authority.

Voters in the towns of Avon, Eagle, Gypsum, Minturn, Red Cliff and Vail as well as the Beaver Creek Metro District and unincorporated parts of Eagle County will individually decide whether or not they want to be a part of the proposed RTA.

That said, in order for the new authority to be formed at all, voters in Avon, Vail, Beaver Creek and Eagle County must vote in favor of the question on their ballot. That’s because the large majority of sales tax in the county is generated in the communities located nearest to our local resorts.

Among the possible improvements are better commuting routes and service for those that live in Eagle and Gypsum (including a potential fare-free service); more frequent and efficient routes to Leadville and Dotsero; a possible fare-free zone in the upper valley; first and last mile transit improvements; more sustainable funding for the Eagle County Airport to bring in more flights; and more.

Many of these solutions came directly from local employees and employers, who reported not using current transit due to inconvenient service times as well as bus stop locations. In addition, these changes are designed to reduce congestion on streets and limit parking demand — a benefit not only to the workforce, but to the visitor experience as well.

Effectively, by boosting transit, a better way of getting from here to there is promised.

Not only that but by creating a transit system that better serves the needs of both locals and visitors, the RTA hopes to boost ridership — something that could go a long way to help the county achieve its climate goal of reducing emissions by 50% by 2030.

Ground transportation is by far the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in Eagle County, with the most recent energy inventory report showing that 41% of emissions came from transit in 2019 and 37% in 2020. Increasing ridership on local transit could have an enormous impact on reducing these emissions, not only in getting residents and visitors out of cars and into buses, but also as the authority would seek to transition local fleets to electric buses.

Through a proposed half-cent sales tax — estimated to generate an additional $15 million in the first year on top of the existing half-cent sales tax that funds ECOTransit — the new authority would seek to fund these enhancements to local transit services.

Considering all these factors, a half-cent tax is a very reasonable price to pay to secure the promise of more equitable and efficient transit that cuts down on emissions in Eagle County.

The last time voters were asked to form a regional transit authority was in the 1990s — with Eco Transit forming in 1996. The valley has changed drastically since then as the population has exploded (particularly in downvalley communities), guest numbers have continued to grow (creating traffic and parking congestion) and the demand for local workforce has continued to grow. With these changes, it’s time for our local transit to change as well, not only to address current gaps but also to better prepare for the future.

Plus, as individual municipalities struggle to find viable, efficient and robust solutions to the growing pains and workforce challenges in Eagle County, it’s refreshing to see a solution that came together as a result of not only regional collaboration but collaboration across private, public and nonprofit sectors.

And as a solution collaboratively crafted, it’s one that promises to better unite the county through enhanced and equitable transit.

We urge voters to support the formation of the Eagle Valley Transportation Authority on their ballots this fall.