Columnists, Jon Caldara, Politics, Transit, Transportation, Uncategorized

Caldara: Drive a stake though undead Front Range rail

(You can listen to this column, read by the author, here.)

The first mention of vampires in English literature appeared in 1801 in an epic poem, “Tabitha the Destroyer,” written by Robert Southey.

The earliest known plan for a railroad in the USA was drawn up in Pennsylvania, also in the early 1800s.

Coincidence that trains and vampires started at about the same time? Since then, the two phenomena have merged into one cult.

No matter how many times we think we’ve killed the lunacy of rail in Colorado, the central-planning undead still push their 1800s technologies on understandably frustrated commuters as they suck the blood out of naive taxpayers.

The undead just created another government taxing district, the Front Range Passenger Rail District, with a pipe dream of a Choo- Choo from Pueblo to Fort Collins.

The feds just awarded them a tiny $500,000 grant. But that’s enough to get them a little pregnant. Another foolish rail project is being birthed in Colorado.

I’ve seen this too many times to count. This seed money will be used to beg, borrow, and steal more seed money from our state, counties and cities. This district will soon grow big enough to ask for a tax increase for yet another fiasco.

So just how stupid are we?

In the early ‘70s, the Regional Transportation District, RTD, got voter approval for a half penny on a dollar sales tax. The promise was by 1980 they’d fully build 128 miles of fixed guideway rail, and the tax would to be cut in half, used only for operations.

You might have noticed that not only was that promise not kept, it wasn’t even started. However, the tax stayed.

In the grand tradition of “why charge once when you can charge taxpayers twice,” RTD conned voters again in 2004 to raise the sales tax to a full penny a dollar for their $4 billion Fastracks scheme.

Funny thing though, the Fastracks price tag nearly doubled to well over $7.5 billion. And while the whole system was promised to be completed by 2017, just like their early 1970s broken promise the longest rail line, from Denver to Longmont, hasn’t even been started. Maybe never will be.

While love is not a zero-sum game, governmental budgets are. Dollars spent on trolley cars squeeze out dollars spent on improving roads.

And thus our roads suck and traffic is horrendous. We have taken our taxing capacity meant to construct modern and smart roadways, used by all of us, to build Choo- Choo trains used by relatively few.

U.S. Census data shows that only 4% of Denver metro commuters use transit, including rail and buses.

I challenge you to stare at the tracks when there is no train going by, for that’s the best way to understand the wasted capacity.

While you’re stuck in your car in an I-25 traffic jam, just feet away is right-of-way used for tracks going unutilized. It’s like being stuck next to a completely empty car lane, but you are forbidden to drive on it.

Governments and central planners love rail because it guarantees a monopoly. Competitors like private bus companies, carpoolers, Ubers, and your car can’t ride on their tracks.

By contrast, bus/high occupancy vehicle lanes give a high-speed advantage not only to government transit, but to anyone who wants to get out of the traffic jam.

The U.S. 36 from Boulder to Denver bus route is arguably the best rapid transit run in the country. RTD buses use the bus/toll lane to rocket around traffic. But there’d still be a ton of unused capacity on those lanes if only RTD buses used them. So, all that excess is open for anyone who wants to get out of the traffic jam.

You can’t do that with rail tracks.

And in a world of smart transportation and driverless cars, why in the world would we build a system that accommodates only a single government conveyance, 1800s style?

The Front Range Passenger Rail District believes their desire named streetcar will cost between $6 and 12 billion. That means closer to $24 billion in real life, just look at California’s rail monstrosity for confirmation.

At the same time CDOT says it needs only $9 billion for its road needs in Colorado, you know, the roads 100% use, but can’t find the cash.

Time to kill the undead so the living can have transportation that works.

Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.  He previously served as chairman of the board of directors for the Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD).


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