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Going back to the drawing board on Northwest Rail, RTD also faces other incomplete projects from 2004 FasTracks plan

Erik Davidson, who represents much of Longmont on the RTD board of directors, also said the district has fallen short in finishing other key rail segments included in the original $4.7 billion FasTracks plan, as well as enhanced bus service for metro-area residents. That has led to frustration among voters who approved FasTracks and among board members who weren’t overseeing the agency when FasTracks stalled over fiscal roadblocks.
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"RTD A Line train nearing station stop"

A reset on the 2004 FasTracks plan promised in the next two months may correct some of the mistakes made by the Regional Transportation District, including failing to deliver a commuter rail line to Longmont and other northwest municipalities who have contributed nearly $400 million to the project.

Erik Davidson, who represents much of Longmont on the RTD board of directors, also said the district has fallen short in finishing other key rail segments included in the original $4.7 billion FasTracks plan, as well as enhanced bus service for metro-area residents.

That has led to frustration among voters who approved FasTracks and among board members who weren’t overseeing the agency when FasTracks stalled over fiscal roadblocks.

“We are disappointed that FasTracks has multiple unfinished rail corridors in some areas and that it has not delivered the enhanced bus service that was committed in other areas,” Davidson recently said in an email. “This is difficult for stakeholders across the region.”

“We may not all agree on solutions,” Davidson said. “But we certainly agree there is a problem.”

Boulder County, Westminster and Broomfield have contributed $386 million in FasTracks sales tax revenue from 2005-2020, despite the lack of FasTracks rail in nearly all of those communities, Davidson said. 

The figures are based on information from the Colorado Department of Revenue specific to the 0.4 % sale tax collected for FasTracks, Davidson said.

Longmont has contributed more than $60 million to FasTracks since the 2004 vote, Jim Golden, Longmont’s chief financial officer, said in an email last month. To date, the only FasTracks spending slated for Longmont is $17 million for the First and Main transit station

Because FasTracks has exceeded the initial projected budget, several projects are left incomplete, unfunded or underfunded, Davidson said. 

Four unfunded projects are:

  • A 35.3-mile segment of the Northwest Rail line, also known as the B Line, to Longmont. The only completed segment of the B Line extends from Denver to Westminster. The entire corridor was slated to be finished by 2017. The current estimate has the B Line finished by the 2040s.
  • A 6-mile segment of rail line to Colo. 7, also known as the N Line.
  • A 2.5-mile southwest rail extension to C-470/Lucent Boulevard, or the C and D Lines.
  • A 0.8-mile central rail extension to 38th and Blake streets in Denver, also known as the L Line.
Over time, Davidson said, the FasTracks program also was supposed to contribute to enhanced bus service. However, because multiple FasTracks programs were unfunded, the FasTracks Internal Saving Account, FISA, was created in 2012, he said. 

The planned enhanced bus service contributions were capped to divert some of the intended funding to the FISA account for unfunded FasTracks projects, Davidson said. There is about $120 million in the FISA account. 

A decision earlier this month by RTD CEO and General Manager Debra Johnson to take a fresh look at the building of the B Line within the next 60 days will include new cost estimates for a scaled-back peak service plan.

Peak service would provide three, one-way trains between Longmont and Denver running every 30 minutes mornings and afternoons at a cost of $708 million to build and $14 million annually to operate and maintain, according to RTD. 

“While RTD put forward a conserative estimate of the cost of a peak service plan in 2019, there are still some questions to answer to get a more accurate cost estimate,” Davidson said.

A full buildout of the B Line would cost $1.5 billion and would require $20.6 million for annual operating and maintenance expenses, Bill Van Meter, RTD’s assistant general manager, said during an RTD board study session on Feb. 9.

RTD also would have to share a track for B Line operations with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway, although a final figure on sharing expenses with the rail giant was not available, according to RTD officials.

RTD and local officials are hopeful a partnership could be struck with Amtrak for a northwest rail corridor that would serve Longmont, Van Meter said.

Transportation advocates, meanwhile, say the expense of rail from Denver to Boulder is too costly and should be shelved in favor of enhanced bus service. They point to the Flatiron Flyer bus service as an example of a service that could be adjusted to carry passengers more efficiently than rail.  

The Flatiron Flyer took off in 2016 for $190 million and carried an average of 11,600 people daily in 2018, according to RTD. The full service B Line, meanwhile, is projected to carry 4,100 riders a day, RTD states.

Travis Madsen, transportation director at the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, told Colorado Public Radio that FasTracks to Longmont is not cost effective. 

“We have an opportunity to get a lot more folks riding the transit system, getting cars off the road, reducing air pollution and generally making quality of life in our region better by focusing our investments on the projects that are going to give us the biggest bang for the buck,” Madsen told CPR.

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