FasTracks, the multi-billion dollar mass-transit project that Denver metro area voters approved back in 2004 is losing the support of some mayors if certain conditions aren’t met.
Two financial problems are plauging the system. The first is the run-up in material prices in the past couple of years. Those prices were pushed up by commodity traders in a similar fashion that oil was. None of the prices were actually supported by market fundamentals – traders just wanted to make as much money as they possibly could. As a result, the price tag for FasTracks went up. In 2007, RTD put the cost of the entire FasTracks project at $6.1 billion, up from $4.7 billion in 2004. That price tag went up to $7.9 billion by last October. As an article in today’s Post details, the most recent cost projection is for $6.9 billion.
The second problem is the more recent lack of sales-tax revenues thanks to the deepening recession the Cons caused. The lack of revenues means that RTD will have a budget gap to operate its system even if the $2.2 billion difference is solved.
The meat of the Post piece is about recent parting of opinion by some metro-area mayors. While I’ve characterized the Post’s coverage of most material as searching for the he-said, she-said kind of stories (and as the Rep. Polis – Rocky article showed, they like to manufacture controversy), I think their coverage on this issue is closer to the truth. Broomfield’s and Aurora’s mayors, among others, are justifiably frustrated that planned lines to their communities may be placed second-in-line to have their portions of FasTracks finished.
RTD’s most recent proposal calls for the Northwest, the North Metro and the I-225 lines to be reduced in either of two different ways. The tracks would be halved from two to one along most of the route (it looks to me like the entire route still wouldn’t be finished) or the routes could wait until 2017 for a new measure to be passed, under which they would be completed in 2034. That second solution isn’t a solution at all, in my opinion. The metro area cannot afford to wait until 2034 to have a mostly functional transit system. After all, how many more people would live in the region in 25 more years? Whatever is in FasTracks now would be unable to handle that growth, I’m afraid.
So RTD is asking the caucus of mayors to put their support behind the DIA and the Gold lines. RTD is expecting $1 billion in federal money and private construction/operation that will bring another $1 billion to the projects.
I can certainly understand the lack of enthusiasm that some mayors would have in putting their support behind lines that wouldn’t support their communities. In one way, it certainly is selfish of them. But they worked in their communities to pass the overall project with the idea that they would receive mass transit in areas they were elected to represent. Broomfield Mayor Pat Quinn was quoted as saying,
If money cannot be found to close the $2.2 billion FasTracks funding gap, Quinn said, “we want all corridors to share the deficit.”
I can see his point. FasTracks was presented as a group of transit lines. Why should some of the lines be completed on-time, while other lines capabilities’ are scaled back dramatically?
One solution would of course be to go back to the voters and ask them to support additional tax money to finish the projects as originally planned. Is that guaranteed to work? Of course not. In this economic environment, nothing is guaranteed. However, with President Obama demonstrating leadership at the national scale on pushing transit systems, voters might understand the situation – they’re affected by the downturn as much as RTD is.
What is lacking is what the mayors were elected for: leadership. If they want the lines so bad, they should be banding together to put something before the voters following an intensive education campaign. If presented correctly, I would imagine voters would approve additional money by as large a margin as they approved the original plan. Left unsaid so far is the ridiculous run-up in gas prices last year. People shifted their driving habits in the midst of $4 gas. I think most people realize gas has a higher chance of going back up to that price than remaining where it is. If it happens again this summer, I think voters would approve quite a bit of money to get some relief in the future.
Look, I know mayors have more than enough on their plates right now. But in times of hardship, we need more than ever people who can stand up to the occasion. This is one area where that can happen. Expecting the feds to bail them out of their problem isn’t doing anybody any good. I’m also a resident along what would be the Northwest line. I want additional mass transit up the US-36 corridor. I want additional choices to get to work and into Denver and I’m willing to pay a little more to do it.
Cross-posted at SquareState.