Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy

FasTracks Study: Northern Lines May Not Get Built?

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According to a Denver Post article, RTD (mass transit entity for the Denver, CO area) may be unable to build a number of lines it proposed back in 2004 as a part of FasTracks.  A study was conducted by BBC Research & Consulting, and was prepared for the North Area Transportation Alliance.  The group was formed in response to announcements in the past couple of years that the taxes passed by Denver metro-area voters back in 2004 wouldn’t cover the cost of all the planned light-rail and bus lines.

Commodity prices skyrocketed in the years after 2004 – that certainly didn’t help the plans laid out during good economic times.  But what is really threatening the plan is the Great Recession.  Tax receipts have tanked in the past two years.  The 0.4% tax passed remains in effect, but is producing considerably less money because people simply aren’t spending.  Those that hate everything government does and stands for have wasted no time in attacking RTD in the Post article’s comment section.

I’m sympathetic to the very large set of hurdles the FasTracks and RTD is facing.  I think the system is good, but not perfect.  I like light-rail; I like the idea of high frequency bus service.  But the article shares the following view that I think deserves attention:

“Simply stated, and now repeatedly stated by others, RTD needs to contemplate and discuss Plan B, and perhaps Plan C and Plan D,” said Ford Frick, BBC’s managing director, in the report. “If revenues fall short, or costs rise, what’s the plan? At what point will it be triggered?”

I agree with this assessment.  RTD has lined up three pathways to get all the lines built on time and close to originally advertised.  If one of the three falls through, what happens to the project?  Which lines get the axe?  Which lines get reduced service?  Are most contingencies well planned for or not?  Because I know a large number of north metro-area folks are going to be very upset if we’ve been taxed to pay for lines that we’ll rarely, if ever, use.  Opening two or three lines by 2017 and having the remainder wait until 2034, as proposed earlier this year, isn’t a viable solution.  Perhaps asking voters to increase the tax from 0.4% to 0.8% is, but in this economic environment, it faces strong headwinds.  I maintain that those two solutions aren’t and shouldn’t be the only two available.  But whatever the solution set looks like, RTD needs to be more aggressive to engage the public.  Communication looks to be stagnant or intermittent.  The apparent lack of fall-backs doesn’t engender confidence that RTD will be able to handle further shifts in the picture.

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