Editor’s note: A word has been added to clarify a quote.
A group of former Regional Transportation District board members released a public letter this week calling for options to be considered in the FasTracks plan.
The letter stated that the Northwest Rail line — part of the FasTracks plan to connect Boulder County to Denver Union Station — is “simply not a cost-effective use of tax payer dollars.”
The letter, which was signed by 21 former RTD board members and dated Monday, asked elected officials to realign the conversation “from mode to mobility.”
“The authors of this letter think it is a disservice to the residents of the District and a waste of time and energy to continue talking about what mode of transportation was ‘promised’ in FasTracks,” the letter read. “The discussion should move to mobility: the best way to move essential workers to their jobs; the best way to expand access to better jobs; the best way to level the playing field so nobody has to travel one hour by bus or train because they cannot afford to live near a minimum wage job.”
When asked about the representation in the letter, specifically that few who signed were from the northwest region, Lee Kemp, former RTD director for District I, which includes Longmont, said he believes the people who signed represent the whole district.
“That’s what the RTD board is — they represent the whole district by assuring that there is equality for all,” Kemp said. “The representation encompasses the district as a whole, not just one area.”
He later added, “It’s time to take a step back and ask does the mode meet the need? That needs to be evaluated. That’s what this letter is all about, stakeholders getting together and seeing whether or not what was promised in 2005, when FasTracks went into effect, and what it is today.”
Voters in 2004 approved a 0.4% sales tax for FasTracks. According to the letter, Boulder County taxpayers contributed $243 million in FasTracks taxes between 2005 and 2019.
The former board members who signed the letter said they believe there are two reasons why the Northwest Rail line, also known as the B Line, hasn’t come to fruition: “There is not enough money” and “not enough ridership” to justify the estimated $1.5 billion cost. The railway, according to the letter, is projected to carry 4,000 passengers per weekday.
In contrast, the letter stated that the A Line, which connects between downtown Denver, Denver International Airport, and the many communities along I-70; G Line, which provides service to Denver, Arvada, and Wheat Ridge; and first segment of the B Line, which connects Westminster to Denver Union Station, carried more than 30,000 passengers per weekday in 2019.
Longmont City Council members last month took part in an executive session to discuss options for moving the Northwest Rail line project along. Mayor Brian Bagley relayed that Longmont leaders were upset over what he said was RTD’s failure to follow through, with the transit agency proceeding with several of its other FasTracks lines, while not providing Longmont with “its fair share of FasTracks.”
Bagley released a statement Tuesday in response to the letter.
“The only reason why RTD is getting Longmont tax dollars for FasTracks is because the voters of the district voted and agreed on a plan that included NW rail,” he wrote. “If the RTD board does not want to follow through on the voter approved plan, stop taking our tax dollars and reimburse us for what has already been taken. However, now claiming that the NW rail should not be built to Longmont … and continuing to take and rely on Longmont’s ongoing FasTrack dollars to subsidize the FasTrack district — is unethical and flat out stupid. This list of past RTD board members suckered Longmont into participating, now give us what was promised or stop taking our money.”
Longmont City Council Member Joan Peck called former RTD board members being “against” the northwest corridor alignment “disturbing and ridiculous.”
“It’s interesting that many of the past board members who are against the FasTracks NW corridor have their segments of the rail system completed. Could it be that they are nervous about losing the operation and maintenance dollars from their neighbors to the north? The four unfinished rail corridors have been the piggy bank to keep these finished corridors operating.”
Former board members during the meeting said they thought things had changed significantly since the FasTrack plan was created 20 years ago and that there were some elements that were out of RTD’s control, including the 2008 recession, which they said impacted every project, after sales and use tax revenues plummeted.
“When we passed FasTracks, it was passed as a plan for the whole metro area,” said Bill Elfenbein, the former RTD director for District A. “As the years went by, we found that the economy changed and that prices of material changed. All that made the plan very hard to put into place for everybody at the same time. In my mind, I’m excited because we have a system. We’ve got a system and a lot of places don’t have this. I think we’re fortunate that we’ve gotten as far as we can. Obviously, we want the Northwest taken care of. We want Longmont and Boulder, but RTD is doing the best they can at this time.”
Kent Bagley, who served as RTD director for District H from 2009 to 2017, said during the Tuesday conference that the letter was sent to RTD officials. As of Wednesday afternoon, Kent Bagley said the former board members hadn’t received a response from either the staff or board.
Late last week, the Southwest Chief & Front Range Passenger Rail Commission signed off on a proposed coordination agreement with RTD. The idea being that Front Range rail and RTD could potentially share tracks from Denver to Boulder, according to the Denver Post. RTD board members are expected to vote on the agreement in June and Front Range rail said that a commission recommended the northwest route from Denver through Boulder.
Amtrak expressed interest last month in forming partnerships to provide a passenger railroad service between Pueblo and Cheyenne.
In a statement released Tuesday, Lynn Guissinger, RTD director for District O, which includes Boulder County said she has “a lot of respect for the former directors who signed the letter,” and appreciates their continued support.
“We are in a unique moment in time now, however, with Amtrak listing Front Range Passenger Rail (FRPR) as one of its possible expansion lines, and with significant funding proposed for Amtrak in the federal infrastructure (bill) as proposed,” Guissinger wrote in an email. “The FRPR commission has not chosen a corridor, but just this week, stated a preference for the NW Rail alignment. With these partners, cost and ridership numbers could be very different. The RTD board and staff are moving forward with an update of the 30% design work that was completed several years ago so we are ready to be a partner if an opportunity materializes.”