Get ready to be railroaded. Again. You’ve been dragooned twice before, and they’re going for the hat trick.
The Colorado legislature is creating a brand-new government to add atop the 5,000-plus we already have. Its goal? Like nearly everything this legislature is pumping out, is to raise taxes. This time for choo-choo trains.
And if there is anyone who should know what a folly this is, it’s Jared Polis. He’s learned firsthand what an empty promise rail is as he waits with the rest of his hometown of Boulder for a train we’ve been paying for since 2004, that hasn’t even been started.
Let’s do a little history. Colorado was built by railroads. Private railroads connected us to the rest of the country. Without the first rail line from Denver to the transcontinental railroad in Wyoming, Denver might be a little sleepy town today.
Once roads were built, bringing ultimate flexibility and self-direction, rail was used only to carry freight and people who wanted to be treated like freight.
Denver built light rail, via the Denver Tramway Corporation, that ran trolleys. In fact, the building that now houses the boutique Hotel Teatro used to be the trolley garage.
Denver’s trolley tracks were paved over starting in 1950. But rail zombies can’t be killed.
The choo-choo undead came back in 1971 with a public vote to fund the newly created Regional Transportation District, where I would one day become chairman of the board. (That got me a free bus pass, and let me tell you, the ladies just love a man with a bus pass).
In exchange for a half-penny sales tax, voters were promised 118 miles of fixed guideway transit rail. It was to be completed by 1980, then the sales tax was to be cut in half.
The rail never materialized and the tax was never reduced. So, suckers, you’re still paying for a rail system that was going to be completed and paid off 41 years ago.
Then in 2004, RTD sold the same scam. Voters approved a full 1% sales tax to build out another 118-ish-mile rail system for $4.3 billion, which was to be completed by 2017. The price tag has nearly doubled since. And ask the taxpayers in Boulder how the buildout is going.
Even to build just what RTD has, they had to break many of their promises. Much of FasTracks is single-tracked, not double-tracked, making the capacity half.
The cruelest budget cut is in human lives. The promised, elevated intersections were replaced with “at grade” rail crossings, putting rail where automobiles and pedestrians go. As predicted, many people have been killed. Per passenger mile, light rail is the deadliest of transportation.
And the opportunity cost of Fastracks is the massive auto traffic it now causes. First by taking right-of-way that could have been used to expand roadways. Next time you’re stuck in the parking lot on I-25 between downtown and the Tech Center, look over at the light-rail track. Imagine if that space was a car/carpool/transit/toll lane you could use.
The other reason it caused more traffic is it took away the funding capacity that could be used to build and fix our roads. Simply, our roads suck because transit took all the money. CDOT’s wish list is $9 billion WITH transit and bike-lane silliness. Failed Fastracks is over $7 billion. We bought choo-choos instead of roads.
You cannot kill the transit undead because of the strange bedfellows that make up their coalition — Birkenstocks and neckties. The hardcore progressives who want to control how people live and commute (they did go to environmental design school after all) join the capitalist cronies who gorge themselves on public works projects.
So, along comes Senate Bill 238 to create a brand new “RTD” using the same scam from 1971 — start a new government, then tax those in it later.
The mission is to raise taxes for a Front-Range passenger rail system from Wyoming to New Mexico. Conveniently, the boundaries of this new district don’t include those ugly conservative counties that would surely vote against a tax increase.
Gov. Polis, before you sign this third rail fraud into law, maybe you should wait until they make good on the last boondoggle and build that train to your hometown.
Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.
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