Commuting Solutions — a local nonprofit dedicated to delivering innovative transportation options through advocacy, partnerships and education — held its seventh annual transportation summit on Wednesday at the Longmont Museum.
The summit gathered industry experts from across the state and invited transportation leaders from other regions of the U.S. to discuss how a rail system can be implemented in Colorado.
The theme for the talks was partnership. Congressman Joe Neguse led the summit with a speech on how it took building strong partnerships among many local entities to bring in $25 million for a multi-modal plan to redesign CO 119.
In 2004, Longmont voters along with voters in other municipalities approved a ballot measure to increase taxes to pay for a FasTracks rail system that would serve the Northwest corridor. While those funds have been used to bring rail to other parts of the Denver Metro area, Longmont has yet to see a rail system.
Governor Jared Polis pressed upon RTD to figure out a way to keep the promise to voters which launched a feasibility study in the area. The study is underway.
Debra Johnson, general manager and CEO of RTD, said during a panel discussion that the rail project in the Northwest corridor is slated to begin in the late 2040s or early 2050s. She said it is going to take some time to build up partnerships with municipalities, BNSF Railroad and others to see the project through. She also said that a benefit of conducting the RTD feasibility study is the ability to build those partnerships and really learn how the region’s transit system works.
Two years ago the U.S. government passed an infrastructure law that allocated $66 billion specifically to intercity rail projects. John Putnam, former general council for the U.S. Department of Transportation said the Northwest Rail Project will be up against strong competition for those funds.
He believes that the key to winning infrastructure funding is to show why Colorado needs this funding and to express its urgency.
Julie Meredith, assistant secretary for urban mobility, access and megaprograms for the Washington State Department of Transportation was the keynote speaker for the event. She shared how the state of Washington is working with each of its municipalities and districts to create a comprehensive multimodal transportation plan for the future.
Meredith’s presentation was to be seen as an example of how building strong partnerships is essential to delivering strong rail and multimodal transportation solutions to a region. It also served as an example of the tough competition Colorado faces as it applies for grant dollars.
Putnam believes Colorado has a great chance of telling a different story, a story of how the long awaited rail service will connect not just a metropolitan area but how it will integrate more rural communities.