July 17, 2013 Updated: July 17, 2013 at 6:10 pm
A new shuttle service between Victor and Cripple Creek established to help low-income residents in the area get to jobs, grocery stores, doctors and other resources could be the first link in a transportation system that connects the two towns with portions of three other counties.
The Gold Camp Connector officially opens Saturday with four daily round trips between Cripple Creek and Victor, in time to celebrate Victor's Gold Rush Days this weekend. While the shuttle can also be used by tourists, its primary mission is to transport the towns' residents, especially those who are low-income, to work and other essential destinations, said Victor City Council member Diana Bowman.
"Victor does not have a grocery store or clinic," she said, "and there is no public transportation from Victor, and a lot of people work in Cripple Creek or the mine."
The shuttle will cost $1 round-trip, with discounts for seniors, people who are disabled, and children. Bowman said the city of Victor will contribute $25,000 a year to help keep the shuttle running. Information about Cripple Creek's contribution was not immediately available.
Bowman credited the nonprofit Community of Caring in the Aspen Mine Center in Cripple Creek for the shuttle's existence. The organization began working to establish the line in 2007, after it issued more than $21,000 in gasoline and other vouchers to 514 people in southern Teller County to help offset the cost of travel.
"It was then we decide that this situation meant we either continued to write grants for assistance, or we solve the transportation issue," said Mary Bielz, chairman of the board of directors.
In 2009, Community of Caring received a two-year, $80,000 state Job Access and Reverse Commute grant to find ways to help solve that area's transportation problem, said Veldean Petri, executive assistant. The organization then received $193,000 in grants from the Colorado Department of Transportation, with $168,000 going to purchase two shuttle vans. The remaining $25,000 will be used to build a bus shelter in Victor, Petri said. This year, the city of Cripple Creek received a fourth CDOT grant for $154,000 for operations and administration costs for the Gold Camp Connector shuttle service, she said.
While the shuttle will make it easier for low-income residents in Victor and Cripple Creek to access jobs and services, it could also help bring needed revenue to Victor's city budget. The town, which does not have casinos and is not as big of a tourist draw as Cripple Creek, saw an "unforeseen sales tax drop" in 2012, according to its 2013 budget outline. Victor also had lower projected revenues in both its general and utility enterprise funds. This fiscal year, the city reported revenues about $453,000 below expenses before state and other grants were added, Bowman said.
Victor, population 401, has about 25 hotel rooms, which city officials hope the shuttle will help fill.
"We truly hope the shuttle is not only a benefit for providing transportation to residents," she said, "but in bringing tourism over from Cripple Creek."
The five-mile shuttle route along Colorado Highway 67, may be only the beginning of a route that could eventually include sections of Fremont, Park, and El Paso counties, Bielz said. One of the grants Community of Caring received was to make the organization a Local Transportation Coordinating Council for Teller County.
Bielz said there are a number of transportation systems in southern Teller County. The idea is to find ways to make existing transportation services and corridors function better as a coordinated, multi-county system, and help Teller County residents access "vital services" in El Paso County and other locations.
"It is not for us to try and start this huge transportation system," Bielz said. "The idea is to utilize what is here, and expand it, and move it, and do what is necessary to widen access."
Contact Ned Hunter: 636-0275.