FasTracks, a multi-billion dollar transit expansion plan developed by RTD, will need more money if it expects to conclude all projects by 2017 according to the Boulder County Business Report.
Originally estimated at $4.7 billion after voters approved of the plan in 2004, FasTracks designated a 12-year program extending rail and bus service. Now, according to an RTD news release, projections indicate that expenses could be as much as $7.9 billion if they intend to finish by 2017, the date originally planned for completion.
According to the RTD FasTracks Web site, the new system is funded through a variety of sources, including a voter-approved sales tax increase of 0.4 percent, federal funding, public-private partnerships and local contributions, as well as other things.
But since the tax increase, Pauletta Tonilas, spokeswoman for FasTracks, said two factors have contributed to the budget shortfalls.
“There has been an unprecedented increase in the cost of construction materials, such as steel, copper and diesel fuel,” Tonilas said. “In addition, because of economic challenges, our sales tax revenues have not kept face with what our original projects were. Two things: the combined higher costs plus less revenue have created a $2.2 billion budget gap in order to build FasTracks in the time frame we wanted.”
Tonilas said that one option to increase funds and get scheduled construction back on track is asking voters for another sales tax increase.
“We’re going to voters and asking for another sales tax increase. Our RTD Board of Directors has not made a decision yet, but that is the strategy we are considering to help fill the gap. A tax will be our best avenue to get this thing built in that time frame,” Tonilas said.
According to the RTD FasTracks Web site, the goals of FasTracks are to improve transportation choices for the citizens of the Denver Metro Area, increase transit mode share during peak travel times and establish a proactive plan that balances transit needs with future regional growth.
The Web site states that “the…program aims to build 122 miles of new commuter rail and light rail, 18 miles of rapid transit service, 21,000 new parking spaces at rail and bus stations and enhance bus service for easy, convenient bus/rail connections across the eight-county district.”
Among these objectives, according to the Web site, some of the new rail lines and bus services include a Northwest Rail Corridor from Union Station in Denver passing through Longmont, Westminster, Louisville and Boulder; a U.S. 36 Corridor of Bus Rapid Transit service between Downtown Denver and Boulder; and an East Corridor extending from Union Station to Denver International Airport.
In 2004 and 2009 RTD FasTracks used The Kenney Group, a Denver-based strategic communications, government affairs and public relations company, to conduct a phone survey amongst Denver residents. According to the survey, respondents were asked questions on their concerns with traffic congestion, the viability of public transportation and their willingness to pay taxes to support the program.
From the survey, 12 percent of people interviewed decided that public transportation was the most important issue facing the Denver metro area today. A total of 15 percent of the respondents said they use RTD every day to a couple times a month to commute to work.
According to the survey, 66 percent of people said they voted for FasTracks in 2004, and 82 percent believe that approval of FasTracks was a good decision.
However, on the issue of budgeting alternatives to pay for improved public transportation, 34 percent said that scaled-down version of FastTracks was a somewhat good idea while 20 percent said that paying the $3.2 billion in additional costs with a tax increase was a very bad idea, according to the phone survey.
Ultimately, according to their responses from the phone survey, 50 percent of respondents said that completing the construction that had already been started and canceling the rest of the program was a very bad idea.
As construction on some of the corridors has already begun, Tonilas said that if no new revenue comes in, the West Corridor, phase one of the US 35 bus rapid transit, Union Station, the East Corridor to DIA and a series of other project related things will be completed by 2017, as scheduled.
Tonilas said regardless of funding, however, FasTracks still plans on completing all projects
“Nothing is being eliminated,” Tonilas said on the topic of a scaled-back FasTracks program. “We’re still delivering everything. The line up to Boulder is still part of the plan, without question. But if there is no additional funding, we are going to need a much longer time frame.”
For students who commute or travel between Boulder and Denver, the idea of a light rail line between the two cities could prove either useful or an unnecessary strain on wallets.
Ross Raitman, a 23-year-old second year master’s student in civil engineering, said he thinks that while the idea of FasTracks is a good idea, it probably won’t be used that much and shouldn’t be done. However, he said the potential for fast commute between lower Downtown and Boulder is an appealing idea for him.
“Actually, I might use [the Northwest Corridor]. It depends on how late it runs,” Raitman said. “If they had a late night one, I’d definitely use it; it’d make late nights in LoDo so much easier. I’d even probably vote for the tax increase, even though I think the sales tax is already high enough.”
But for students living outside of Boulder, increased public transportation could be a welcomed change.
Krishna Chavakula, a 20-year-old senior MCD biology major, said he used the light rail and bus to get from Denver to Boulder over the summer.
“I used the light rail to get to Market Street and from there took the bus straight to campus,” Chavakula said. “I live in Broomfield now, but I would use the new light rail system if it was built.”
Chavakula also said he would support another tax increase if it didn’t affect him or anyone else.
“As long as it doesn’t affect me or anybody, yeah, I would support [a tax increase]. Right now, I’m using the student pass and all the CU students use the student pass, so I don’t think it would affect them,” Chavakula said.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Sheila V Kumar at Sheila.email@example.com.