Denver Pols Reject Plan to Increase Transit Sales Tax, Put FasTracks Expansion Program in Doubt

» Seeing little hope in approval from electorate this year, regional board delays vote despite difficult fiscal situation.

Once seen as the American leader in transit expansion thanks to the approval of a dedicated tax in 2004, Denver has been hit hard by the recession, putting in question its ambitious rail construction plans. Thanks to a significant decrease in sales tax returns, the region does not have the funds to complete the eleven projects it had planned for 2017. Yesterday, the RTD transit agency’s board decided not to ask the region’s voters for another increase, virtually ensuring that the program will not be finished on time.

The agency board’s unanimous decision was predicated on the idea that the weak economy would make it difficult for voters to agree to paying more in taxes in an initiative this fall. Because next year is an election off-year, 2012 is likely the next

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Colorado Promotes Two-Line, $21 Billion High-Speed Connections Across State

» No clear source of funds doesn’t seem to concern plan makers. But it’s time for some national decision-making about which lines to prioritize.

If you want clear proof for why we need a national agency to coordinate decision-making about rail route choices in the United States, take Colorado’s $21 billion scheme as evidence.

The Rocky Mountain Rail Authority has conducted a study of potential high-speed rail corridors in Colorado, considering areas as far north as Cheyenne, Wyoming, as far south as Trinidad, and as far west as Grand Junction and concluded that the most reasonable, cost-effective option would be to build two new routes: 160 miles north-south along the I-25 corridor between Fort Collins and Pueblo and 150 miles east-west along the I-70 corridor between Denver International Airport and Eagle.

The suggestion is effectively a shortening of a proposal made last year by several states to

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A Grand Gateway for Denver’s Transit Users

» The redevelopment of Union Station has produced debate over the two-block separation between commuter and light rail operations. But that gap could evolve into a brand new neighborhood and better access to areas northwest of downtown.

Denver’s got a bright future ahead for its transit system, with new light rail and commuter rail lines planned to extend in virtually every direction from downtown. Though the recession has reduced sales tax revenues and will likely mean a slower timetable for the completion of the region’s $6 billion FasTracks — and even mean the possible elimination of some components of the capital investment program — one element is unchallenged by the financial difficulties of the contemporary environment, if only because it will serve as the essential core of the planned network: Union Station.

Expected to cost some $500 million to expand and reconstruct, this terminal will

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Denver FasTracks Problems Expose Complexities of Building Transit at the Regional Scale

» Fears of underinvestment for the north metro could doom plans for a sales tax increase.

Denver has one of the most ambitious public transportation expansion programs in the country, with six new train corridors, two rail extensions, and one bus rapid transit line planned. Taking advantage of the region’s decision to endorse a 0.4% sales tax in 2004, the RTD transit agency has engaged rapidly to promote its multi-billion-dollar FasTracks project. Yet, with cost increases and sales tax revenue declines, the metropolitan area will likely not be getting the proposal as initially promised — at least not by 2017, as originally claimed.

Politicians and citizens from the northern section of the region are crying foul, arguing that their neighborhoods are being pushed to the back of the priority list. If they continue to pay sales taxes, they argue, they should receive new transportation capital investments in return. Yet

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Southwest States Angle for New High-Speed Link

» Study would evaluate project linking Denver and El Paso.

The states of Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas will apply for a $5 million grant from the Federal Railroad Administration to study the revival of passenger rail along the Denver-El Paso corridor, via Santa Fe and Albuquerque. The study would consider potential operation speeds of between 110 and 200 mph, though no money would be provided for construction of the 720-mile corridor.

The states hope to leverage their regional connections to become the federal government’s eleventh “authorized” high-speed rail corridor, a status that has debatable importance but which potentially could mean expanded access to rail money in the future. The line is partially used by Amtrak trains running from Kansas City to Los Angeles, but the majority of the route has been abandoned by passenger rail.

Grants are being distributed through the

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The Site / The Fight

by Yonah Freemark

yfreemark (at) thetransportpolitic (dot) com

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