As Breckenridge’s parking plans progress, tensions are once again rising between the town and the ski resort.
After nearly six months of analysis, transportation consultants brought a set of concrete recommendations before Breckenridge Town Council to relieve the town’s growing congestion issues.
Bill Campie, president of DTJ Design, and Jeffrey Tumlin, principal and director of strategy for Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates, strongly suggested the town look first to pedestrian, transit and traffic improvements before increasing parking capacity. In the short term, they suggested smaller infrastructure improvements, giving time to plan for larger projects three to five years out.
“We just need to get 10 percent of motorists out of their cars or to shift the time of day,” Tumlin said.
“We want the parking that was promised.”John BuhlerBreckenridge Ski Resort COO
Breckenridge Ski Resort voiced a contending opinion on Tuesday, pushing for a parking garage to be constructed on F-Lot starting next year. According to a ballot measure passed by voters in November, the resort will remit a minimum of $3.5 million to the town through a 4.5 percent tax on lift tickets next season to create a parking and transportation fund.
“… the three to five year timeline discussed to commence work on the parking structure is not acceptable to our company, and will not address needs of our guests who will be paying the tax this year,” Breckenridge Ski Resort COO John Buhler read in a statement before town council. “If council has decided to take a step back and completely relook at how to solve parking and transit, and extend the timeframe in which to add parking, then a broader conversation about the tax itself should be undertaken.”
“A structure is expensive — really expensive — and if it’s something we’re pulling the trigger on we want to make sure it’s the right structure, the right place and all the pieces are in line,” Breckenridge Mayor Eric Mamula said. “In the end, the town will make the decision that the town believes is best based on the consultants. Hopefully the ski area will think it’s the correct path.”
F-LOT OR NOT?
While no language in Ballot Measure 2A indicates the creation of a parking structure, Breckenridge Ski Resort said this expectation was created through statements made by council last year.
“We have no disagreement with the town on the content of Ballot Measure 2A,” Breckenridge Ski Resort Communications Director Kristen Petitt Stewart wrote in an email. “Throughout the entire public debate between the Company and the Town last year over the implementation of a Lift Ticket Tax, both entities agreed on the need for new, incremental parking that would be convenient for skiers and guest accessing the core of town.”
Buhler said if the town planned to look at other infrastructure improvements prior to building the parking lot, “…the tax itself needs to be addressed and deferred for some period of time.”
“The one thing we always agree with council on is the need for parking now,” he continued. “So, we don’t want that (to postpone the tax). We want the parking that was promised.”
Despite the push to potentially defer the lift ticket tax, Stewart said the ski resort has “no intention to shirk our legal obligation by not collecting the tax, but to hold the Breckenridge Town Council accountable to their promises.”
Councilman Jeffrey Bergeron, who was elected after the lift ticket tax passed, noted that the committee “2A for a Better Breck” was clear not to attach the tax to any specific structure.
“(Council) alluded to F-Lot, but I don’t think it was the end-all, be-all,” he added.
Additionally, Bergeron specified the consultants discouraged increasing parking capacity downtown before addressing traffic flow.
“They were very tepid on recommendations that we should ever put anything in F-Lot,” he added. “I tend to take their advice. I tend to think they know what they’re talking about.”
Councilman Mike Dudick expressed a similar opinion, noting he hoped to reach a cooperative solution with the ski resort.
“I think it makes sense for us to be sure we don’t make an already congested downtown potentially worse by adding more core car parking without moving cars around,” he said. “I hope we can work together. I think if we do, we can make it great.”
Councilwoman Wendy Wolfe said the town is not reconsidering anything, but “moving forward and doing our due diligence as we move forward.”
“I’m still very proud of the process we put together. I think it’s a very transparent, honest process,” she said. “I think these next few weeks will be very key.”
A MENU OF OPTIONS
Consultants Campie and Tumlin surveyed Breckenridge residents throughout a series of public input sessions, to gauge public opinion related to the issue. According to the results, locals preferred managing parking demand over creating new spaces, and also preferred a focus on making it easier to bike, walk or take transit over increasing traffic capacity.
From this feedback and previous studies by the town, both consultants suggested three main goals: investing in east-west walkability, building on the town’s Free Ride transit system, and managing traffic flow on Park Avenue.
“We can do 100 small- and medium-sized things that collectively make a difference,” Campie said.
Some suggestions included charging for existing parking downtown, and creating parking on the edges of town near Airport Road, the McCain property and the Ice Rink. In the long term, they suggested, the town could add a gondola to bring in visitors from these lots to downtown without impacting traffic.
“The F-Lot is still a viable option,” Campie said. “ The town lots are still gonna fill up. You should expect, for every spot you add, a car will end up there.”
The concern with adding a structure downtown, is that it would not necessarily decrease traffic, as both locals and visitors circle for spots through the town’s main byways. According to preliminary estimates, the cost of building a parking structure downtown would come in between $20 and $40 million, and a second gondola would carry a price tag of approximately $20 million.
To improve pedestrian access, Tumlin and Campie suggested improving signage and lighting, as well as considering selective use of heated sidewalks to encourage visitors to walk downtown.
“How many folks are staying six minutes out of town and driving half-mile distances?” Tumlin asked. “These sorts of improvements are moving curbs and changing drainage. It is not cheap, but worth it, as you know.”
To make Park Avenue easier to cross, they also suggested implementing a series of traffic circles to slow traffic.
“There’s an incremental benefit (from roundabouts),” he said. “Any time you get rid of left turning vehicles blocking traffic behind, that creates significant benefit.”
Each roundabout would carry an estimated cost of $1.5 to $2 million. As council further refines and prioritizes these options, more precise estimates will be available.
“There are a lot of moving parts in this and a lot of potential expense,” Mamula said. “We’ll have to see where we end up.”
Ultimately, however, he hopes to begin rolling out solutions soon.
“We want to do something immediately. The problem is big; it’s something we need to solve and we want to get stuff going,” Mamula said. “I’d like to get some stuff in the pipeline potentially for next summer.”