Telluride approves public transit system–Clifton

Although Telluride Town Manager Greg Clifton is moving to Vail to become that community’s city manager, he recently made a presentation in Montrose to discuss some of the important projects that are underway in Telluride.

For example, Telluride is working on a public transit system. At a meeting of The Forum at Heidi’s Deli, Clifton explained that it will be called the San Miguel Authority for Regional Transportation, or SMART. “Last year, voters approved the creation and funding of the authority, in what’s considered to be a start-up amount,” he said. “It’s a quarter-cent sales tax and half-mil property tax.” However, SMART has a long way to go before it’s up and running. “In Montrose, you operate All Points; think of this as something akin to your transit system. But it’s an investment in the future. SMART doesn’t own any rolling stock; they don’t even have a staff yet, although they’re searching for an executive director as we speak.”

Telluride is looking decades down the road to anticipate regional transportation needs, according to Clifton. “If we were to all look ahead to what happens to this region ten, 20 or 30 years from now, I think we would share the vision that transit is going to be critically important.” Clifton thinks that importance will manifest in several ways. “Whether it’s about getting an increased workforce, or an increased tourism base—wherever you want to start the discussion—transit is going to be a big factor in making these things happen.”

Getting back to the near-future of SMART, Clifton said, “Right now, the transit authority is very small. It’s comprised of Telluride, Mountain Village, and a very small part of San Miguel County.

The vision is to provide some short-term local transportation enhancement between Lawson Hill, Mountain Village and Telluride.” SMART’s long-term vision is to provide a good mass transit system between Telluride and Montrose, Ridgway, Ouray, and Cortez, said Clifton.

He acknowledged that much work has been done to make the highways in San Miguel, Ouray, and Montrose counties wider and better. But, he doesn’t think that alone will be enough. “If you look at the projected numbers, in terms of traffic and even population growth, and if you assume that Telluride will remain a tourism-based economy, as will some of the other outlying communities, I think we could all agree that transit becomes a pretty important factor.”

Clifton believes that Montrose will continue to play a key role in the regional transit situation. “Montrose will continue to function as an important transit hub, especially in terms of air traffic, commerce, retail, and all the things that are provided in this community, along with a very important workforce.”  Montrose winter air service expands to Houston and Newark operated by United Airlines, service to Dallas and Chicago with American Airlines, service to Atlanta with Delta Airlines, and service to Los Angeles and Phoenix/Mesa with Allegiant Air.

 In comparison, Clifton pointed out that Aspen and its neighboring communities have profited from their investments in a regional transportation system years ago. “The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority is one of the biggest in Colorado,” he said. “It’s huge. It provides bus transportation between those communities and the city of Aspen, helping to alleviate the traffic concerns on that highway.”

Even as SMART gets larger, the gondola, (the aerial tramway that connects Telluride and Mountain Village,) will remain an important part of the system. The gondola has provided free transportation since it opened in 1996. However, that is going to change, according to Clifton. “It will remain free until 2027”, when a charge will be instituted.

About the author

Dave Segal

Dave Segal

Dave Segal, a Detroit native, has been a journalist since 1977. He has worked as a reporter, commentator, and news director at radio stations in Detroit, Denver, and Montrose.

Dave has been writing and editing for the Monitor since its first print issue in 2003. He is editor and senior writer for the digital magazine. On the side, Dave has also done freelance writing, media relations, and a variety of volunteer work.