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U.S. 36 Corridor Communities Considering Commitment to Help Fund Northwest Rail Service to Longmont

August 9, 2018

Sam Palmer boards the RTD Light Rail B Line from the Westminster Station to Denver's Union Station in July. Several U.S. 36 corridor communities' governments are considering a commitment to help fund passenger rail service to Longmont on existing BNSF heavy rail lines.

A number of Longmont’s neighboring communities have joined or are expected to join the city’s latest move to try to pressure the Regional Transportation District to proceed with providing some level of passenger rail service to Longmont, according to Mayor Brian Bagley.

A letter that has been prepared to be sent to the RTD from the U.S. 36 Mayors and Commissioners Coalition would ask the transit agency to get an estimate from the BNSF Railway about the projected cost of using the railroad company’s freight track between Denver and Longmont during weekday morning and evening peak commuter hours.

The letter also would state that if Colorado voters approve a proposed 0.62 percent state sales-tax hike for transportation funding that’s expected to be on November’s ballot, the U.S. 36 Coalition’s member communities would commit to consider allocating a portion of their local shares of money from that tax revenue toward the costs of providing that “Peak Service Northwest Rail.”

Bagley told his fellow City Council members Tuesday night that he’d insisted on that expense-sharing commitment from fellow coalition members before Longmont would agree to join the rest of the coalition in formally endorsing “Let’s Go Colorado,” the sales-tax ballot initiative.

“Longmont has gotten short end of the stick” in getting the RTD to live up to its promises to extend FasTracks’ Northwest Rail passenger service to Longmont, Bagley said in a Wednesday interview.

He said he told coalition members that Longmont-area taxpayers have paid more than $50 million into RTD’s voter-approved sales tax collections that were supposed to cover the cost of Northwest Rail as well as other metropolitan-area transit improvements, but “we have not seen one dime” of spending toward the rail project.

The possibility of local governments along or near the route contributing part of their shares of revenue from the proposed statewide sales tax increase for transportation projects might prompt the RTD to take the steps and put up the remaining money required to make the improvements and fund the operating costs of providing Northwest Rail service northwest from Westminster, where it now ends, into Longmont, Bagley said.

“We would use this money to prime the pump,” he said.

Assistant Longmont City Manager Shawn Lewis said in a Wednesday email that the letter to the RTD that’s been drafted “is being circulated among the mayors and commissioners of our NW Rail partners in order to get sign-offs from participating jurisdictions.”

Longmont’s council gave Bagley its blessing Tuesday night, and Lewis said Lafayette’s council voted Tuesday to support the letter. He said Boulder County responded on Wednesday “that they also support” it.

Lafayette is not one of the members of the U.S. 36 Coalition but it did want to participate in the letter to the RTD, Lewis said. He said other jurisdictions expected to support the letter — and the offer to contribute local funding from the proposed state sales-tax hike toward the project costs — are Boulder, Broomfield, Louisville, Superior and Westminster.

John Fryar: 303-684-5211, jfryar@times-call.com or twitter.com/jfryartc

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