Editorials

EDITORIAL: RTD must go back to voters to keep all metro rail-transit lines on track before it’s too late

Anyone who’s had the misfortune of a prime-time commute on the northern I-25 corridor or the rush-hour trip from hell along U.S. 36 to Boulder can tell you that turning on light rail in 2035 is way, way too late.

Time is running out for RTD to make right the FasTracks light-rail project that has gone so terribly wrong.

Back in 2004, metro voters did an astonishing thing. They voted, by a large margin, to raise sales taxes to the tune of about 4 cents on every $10 in purchases to build a metrowide light-rail system, dubbed FasTracks.

The key word here is “metrowide.” It was soon after, however, that the regional economy began to sour, the cost of construction materials began to rise and a cloud gathered over what appeared to be unrealistic revenue projections. For the past eight years, RTD has managed to press forward with rail projects to the west and to Denver International Airport. But despite increases in federal grants and innovative savings, it became clear there was no way to get metro rail on line in the 10 years or so it was promised. There would be many projects, including a key I-225 line to the Anschutz Medical Campus, that would languish.

The Aurora Sentinel and many others have pleaded with the RTD board to go back to voters to ask for the money to get the job done right and on time. The notion behind this request is that the metro-rail plan isn’t truly functional and capable of reducing road congestion until all segments are running, and that those regions that get working light-rail systems will have no compelling reason to approve another tax hike.

Just this summer, a minor miracle happened when the Kiewit construction company offered a design-build contract coinciding with enough existing and promised revenue to get Aurora’s postponed I-225 light-rail line back on track.

Here’s the problem. The two critical lines that would tie Boulder and northern communities, such as Westminster, Thornton, Northglenn, Adams County and Brighton, to Denver and DIA, have been pushed back to a date so far off, they don’t even matter.

RTD officials have pointed out that they still hope to uncover yet another small miracle to move construction of those two lines into the lifetimes of many northern residents.

Hope is not good government policy.

Anyone who’s had the misfortune of a prime-time commute on the northern I-25 corridor or the rush-hour trip from hell along U.S. 36 to Boulder can tell you that turning on light rail in 2035 is way, way too late.

Meanwhile, long awaited lines in Lakewood, Golden, Arvada and a line to DIA are getting closer to becoming a reality. When riders there, and even here in Aurora, start boarding trains, you can rest assured that the “we got ours” mentality will spell the end of any hope of approving another tax hike to get the job done.

We understand the political problem with asking for money, but it would be imprudent for the RTD board not to try. It won’t be easy, and transit officials must work to create a group willing to help persuade voters to finish the job and reap the rewards. Completing the FasTracks project everywhere is not only a critical transportation job, it’s an opportunity to heal the metro economy by creating jobs and growth all along these rail routes at transit oriented developments.

But time is running out. As these new lines began carrying passengers, the number of voters willing to see beyond their own train station will dwindle fast. Go to voters next year and get Front Range light rail back on track.

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  • Madelinne

    I don’t care what people think or say, but I will risk higher tax rates, massive austerity cuts, and hiring cheap immigrant labour JUST to get the lightrail project done in 5 years.

  • LookedForIt

    Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

    In 2004, RTD promised the voters 119 miles of light rail and a plethora of other improvements, all for a 0.4% sales tax increase, and 12 years time. Yes, all of this was promised to be completed by the year 2017.

    Now RTD tells us that the entire project will not be completed until 2044.

    You can read the entire RTD 71 page pdf document from 2004 and see what these public servants promised. Note page 71, which shows the schedule and completion dates.

    http://tatcolorado.com/FasTracks%20Plan%202004.pdf

    Note page 5, where 15 RTD board directors and the RTD general manager signed the document, promising what the voters would get with their tax dollars.

    Voters have been lied to. None of the public servants have been held to account.

    RTD and the politicians who make all these promises are incompetent and we should not entrust them with any more of our tax dollars.

    The Aurora Sentinel has the audacity to suggest we reward these bureaucrats with more of our tax money. The Aurora Sentinel should be ashamed of promoting this scheme.

  • Ace

    There are places in the metro area where the existing sales tax is nearly 9%. Add a TIF (like at Park Meadows) and you pay 10% or more. With that in mind, why would I vote for an increase which provides no benefit to me or anyone living within a 20-mile radius of my home? Don’t try to tell me that light rail helps everyone by reducing freeway congestion when RTD admits flat-out that the entire mass transit system has no measurable effect on traffic. None.
    Not all of RTD’s woes are due to declining revenues and increased material costs. Look at the BNSF fiasco as a great example. Consider RTD’s forecasts of a continuously increasing economy when local history shows a “bubble-burst” approximately every 20-22 years. RTD already has ways off increasing their reveues in small ways but choose not to. They could reduce the amount spent on “beautification,” such as the double-the-initial-cost bridge over Pena Blvd.
    Despite what the Sentinal wants us to consider, light rail is for transportation, not job growth and transit-oriented development. Jobs and development are side issues. If we truly need dependable options to driving or walking, we have to focus on that and worry about the rest later on.
    RTD has proven itself unworthy of our trust. They failed once and I have not seen any meaningful change in their management that would allow me to trust them again.