Lubow and Peck: Moving FasTracks Forward
In 2004, RTD voters approved the creation of FasTracks, the connected train lines linking the metro suburbs with Denver. In many ways, the FasTracks project has been a success. Almost 70 percent of the project will be completed by 2020, expected to be carrying almost 60,000 riders daily. Economic growth along the corridors are helping to bring billions of dollars in construction, jobs, and retail sales.
However, there have been some notable deficiencies in the FasTracks program. One of the most egregious is the delay in constructing the final part of four of the corridors, due to insufficient funding. Of the four partially-unfunded corridors, the one with the largest amount of unfinished mileage is the Northwest rail, still to be completed between Westminster and Longmont.
There are many explanations as to why our corridor is unfunded. The Great Recession took a big bite out of tax funding for FasTracks, many rail construction costs markedly increased, technology was more expensive, and our corridor had a variety of factors making it difficult to complete. All these conditions joined together to push our corridor to the end of the funding line.
RTD maintains that it will someday complete the entire FasTracks project. This promise is too vague to be acceptable, however, to rail advocates. The rest of this article will summarize steps currently being taken by rail advocates to move construction forward on the Northwest rail.
The most important step forward taken by the five jurisdictions along the corridor was their agreement to seriously study with RTD the possibility of creating a commuter service for our line — the Peak Service Plan — which would operate at first only during rush hour periods. As ridership increased and more money became available, service on the line would increase. This model already has proven to be successful elsewhere.
This plan should be significantly less expensive than a full-service plan. It would require so much less rail usage on the shared Burlington Northern Santé Fe (“BNSF”) line that much lower construction and operational costs would be needed. RTD still is waiting for a Peak Service cost analysis from BNSF for what its charges will be, but RTD’s own construction cost estimate for the Peak Plan is coming in at a fraction of the previous estimation.
Other steps moving the Northwest corridor along include discussions between rail advocates and RTD about creative financing. One idea is that monies fronted by municipalities as seed money would be treated by RTD as loans to be paid back out of incoming FasTracks funds. Other discussions have been occurring between RTD, the corridor jurisdictions, and a private funder interested in the possibility of providing funds to start the Peak Plan at an earlier start date.
The above steps show that progress exists in getting the Northwest rail corridor started. We do not have the train funded yet, but there is significant momentum. Readers can do your part by contacting your county and local elected officials and telling them you want their support for our corridor’s Peak Service Plan.
Judy Lubow is Region 1 District Director for RTD; Joan Peck is a Longmont city council member.