Snowmass Transit

Snowmass Village Transportation Director David Peckler shows the town council proposals for the Snowmass Transit Center.

The Snowmass Village Town Council made a site visit Monday night to parking lot 6 and the bus station adjacent to the Snowmass Mall to get a sense of the scale of a proposed transit center that, if approved, would have major impacts for skiers, bus riders and village residents alike.

Proposals envision a two-story structure with 10 bus bays, encompassing nearly an acre. Those plans are based, in part, on feedback from the council during meetings earlier this year, on April 1 and June 17. But upon walking through Lot 6, where two story poles showed the extent and height of the structure, most of the council and Mayor Markey Butler found themselves concerned with how large it would be.

“This thing is massive,” said Butler afterward during the town council’s regular meeting. “So we wind up with a transit center here. We wind up with a transit center in Base Village. We’ll wind up with another transit center in Snowmass Center, as far as I’ve read from the packets. That’s a lot of transit centers.”

“That comes with the concept of a tri-nodal commercial structure,” said David Peckler, the town’s transportation director, referring to Snowmass Village’s three cores.

The mall-adjacent transit center concept comes as the result of a deal struck during the development of Base Village. As a way to help ensure the mall’s continued vitality after Base Village’s emergence as a commercial hub, it was agreed a future transit center would go where the skier shuttle and RFTA buses drop passengers off at the mall now. It’s a site that makes sense, as roughly 70 percent of all bus riders currently disembark there.

Four of the 10 bays would be for RFTA, which operates the valley bus routes, as well as the skier shuttles in the winter. One bay would be used as a parking space for buses, and the other five would go to the town of Snowmass for its village shuttle system. As a result, the current shuttle depot on Daly Lane could be repurposed, with ideas for its use running the gamut from hotel drop-off service to affordable housing.

As proposed, the transit center would extend outward over Lot 6 on the level of the current bus station. Carriage Way, which runs right past the bus stop, would be re-routed around Lot 6, which would be rebuilt and covered by the bus bays on the roof. It would mean that users of Lot 6 wouldn’t have to cross Carriage Way, which has been the site of many pedestrian and vehicle incidents in the past.

“I think we’ve all seen people walk across in their ski boots and slip and fall,” said council member Bill Madsen. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been lying in the middle of Carriage Way with my skis all over the place, just slipping and falling.”

Madsen noted that Snowmass Village was “vertically challenged” due to its hillside location, and the thought the idea of bringing all the buses up to mall level while making access easier from at least one of the parking lots was a good idea.

“Providing a flat area where people can gather, cross the road and not feel challenged just getting over to the buses, I think, is really important,” said Madsen.

Madsen also liked the way the transit center served the greater goal of encouraging the use of public transportation by making bus access as easy as possible. That aspect of the project appealed to the rest of the council, but Butler and council members Tom Goode and Bob Sirkus still seemed a little overwhelmed by the size of the proposed structure and the fact that it would cover not only a parking lot but also the re-routed Carriage Way.   

“This whole notion of paving paradise really just rots my guts,” said Butler. “The other thing is, if we’re going to do it, we need to do it right. Twenty years from now, I don’t want a family to say, ‘Why the heck did they do it this way?’”

The proposal comes in with an estimate of about $8.8 million. Much of that — nearly $6 million — would come from local Elected Official Transportation Committee funds earmarked for this sort of project. The rest would come, ideally, in the form of federal grants, money from RFTA and other sources, but Peckler guessed the town would probably be on the hook for $1 million or so depending on the final cost of the structure.

In addition to questioning the numbers, Goode also wondered if it was such a wise idea to have transit centered on the mall as it loses ground to Base Village.

“It appears to me that we are investing a lot of transportation into an area that … does the West Village mall have a future?” he asked. “Is it always going to be the center of attraction?”

Any iteration of the transit center is still about two years from breaking ground, leaving the town with plenty of time to come up with a suitable proposal. They’ll also have more money to spend on the planning process next year in the form of $650,000 from the EOTC budget.

Butler closed the discussion by asking Peckler if the meeting had provided him with direction.

“Yes,” he said. “We’ll come up with some criteria (for the project to fulfill) and get it back to you soon. It’ll help guide the next steps in the planning process.”

Todd Hartley writes for the Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at todd@aspendailynews.com.