RTD trains remain a fiscal drain

News stories about tests of the Gold Line commuter train, along with partisan legislative fighting over transportation spending, have renewed interest in metro Denver's RTD FasTracks program. There is some anticipation after 13 years of taxes without a choo-choo in sight here in the northwest suburbs. 

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But here are few things Arvada's (and other taxpayers across the region) should know: The price tag originally presented to voters, $4.7 billion, had little relation to actual costs. Research showed the public would buy this figure.

Thus all the overruns and bailouts. Are we talking about another 4 or 5 billion? What's a few billion among friends? The word was, "Let's get this passed, then we'll figure how to pay for it."

Much of the cost of the campaign for FasTracksYes was pay-to-play donations, followed by no-bid contracts. 

Although there had been discussions about sharing rights-of-way and track with private railroads 20 years earlier, no agreements were made before the vote, a blunder costing the taxpayer hundreds of thousands.

Bus rapid transit (BRT) costs less to build and operate than rail. Yet it has shorter lead times, is faster, carries more passengers per hour and generates less greenhouse gas. Counting operating and capital, it costs about $28 per passenger on some lines. 

Original estimates that FasTracks will reduce traffic by less than 1/2 of one percent have not changed. Such reduction will last all of five months, until population growth wipes it out.    

Remember the slogan, "One rail line can carry as many people as four freeway lanes?" It's backwards.  Actually a typical Denver freeway lane carries four times as many as the light-rail lines.

Commuter trains have a higher maximum speed with slightly more passenger capacity, and could thus show slightly more potential. But rail lines for both still cost more to build than freeway lanes.  

It's unlikely that RTD will be able to pay for replacement of aging tracks and rail cars without additional taxes. They will not have enough to improve bus service, as they claim.    

RTD policy encourages cities to condemn land for high-density housing near stations. Obama directed Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to announce the billion-dollar Gold Line and Airport Line bailout as an opportunity for development, with no mention of travel or commuting. By “development” he meant high-density, highly subsidized housing.  

In addition to the regressive FasTracks sales tax, Arvada is shoring up the Gold Line with millions of local city tax dollars. 

Some say we are too far into this to quit, but wouldn't it go a long way toward common sense to stop wasting this money?    

Tom Graham of Arvada has a lifetime of experience in project management and public infrastructure