RTD presents five FasTracks options to the public. All are permutations of the original plan, ranging from shortened lines and curtailed service, to the full system. Mentioned with muted voices are possibilities of a 2034 completion date, and the 67% tax increase approved in 2004 becoming a 116.67% increase. More federal grants will be requested. This would also fall short, even in a mild recession.
The original 0.6% tax thirty years ago (!) was authorized with the stipulation of providing rail. None was built. Recognize that sales tax increases hurt business. Taking billions out of the economy is recessionary.
The project is currently $3.2 billion over budget, with $2.8 billion tax revenue shortfall anticipated. There’s the matter of each community being assessed 2% of the cost. Most communities have no idea where this is coming from. Some say, “in-kind services.” Mysteriously, this recently became 2-1/2%. Look for a local tax increase. The Federal share could build all the highways we need.
The economic downturn and rising materials costs are blamed. Many other major projects are progressing. There was intentional low-balling and ignoring of associated items, to make the project more attractive. Add a generous serving of incompetence.
Continuation of these rail options is a distraction from proven transportation solutions. Original RTD and Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) studies ranked rail as less efficient than bus rapid transit (BRT), in terms of speed, frequency, flexibility, capital cost, and operating expenses. All recent US General Accounting Office (GAO) Reports to Congress reinforce this. Rail projects across the country are financial disasters with declining ridership. Only one city, New York, has a rail system that carries as much as one freeway lane.
FasTracks was conceived as a response to traffic congestion. DRCOG forecast a negligible 0.43% reduction by the target year, with consultants predicting zero effect. Note that transit oriented development (TOD), catchwords for liberal urban planners, invariably causes sub-regional traffic congestion. Recommendations are made for nearly 30 times the typical suburban density, requiring high rise buildings. Suggestions are made for forcing people to use rail and live in TODs.
Much of the impetus for the project comes from land speculators who profit by obtaining local council high density approvals. Eminent domain abuses are inflaming the public.
Proponents admit that the project is a fiasco, progressing because of voter approval. Voters were given the choice between a rail project, or no project. The ballot offered no choices or comparisons of proven alternate modes. Voters were asked to choose the most costly project in Colorado’s history on the basis of feel-good slogans. Public comment is limited to minutiae… bicycles on trains, toilets in stations…with basics avoided.
Why continue the fiasco? RTD recently let a $184 million no-bid contract, after learning that the contractor has been involved in massive bribery scandals. Audit reveals their $2.3 billion slush-fund for “questionable transactions.” $543,000 in political contributions were made by contract recipients. RTD's manager has an annual half-million package, and his city councilor wife is involved in TOD approvals. It’s called wiring contracts by “pay-to-play” manipulators. Firms making six-digit contributions expect, and receive, contracts.
Existing Denver rail runs at 10% of capacity, as compared to nearly 40% nationally, and with many riding because of curtailed bus service. FasTracks will increase air pollution and create 138 grade crossings and 2,000 dead ends, seriously hampering emergency vehicle response.
This project is a dog and should be repealed.