2024 Election, Exclusives, Transit, Transportation, Uncategorized

Larison: Front Range voters should reject a passenger rail tax

The last thing Front Range residents need in these inflationary times is a hefty new sales tax for a costly and impractical intercity passenger rail system.

Veteran transit analysts Jon Caldara and Randal O’Toole have both laid out the ugly truth, while the Front Range Passenger Rail (FRPR) District board continues its misguided optimism of public support.

It’s almost guaranteed that voters in my city of Longmont won’t support any new sales tax for trains.  No other locale in the Regional Transportation District (RTD) taxing jurisdiction has agonized more from the unfulfilled promises of FasTracks.

The line was scheduled to be completed to Longmont by 2017.  Through April 2024, the city has contributed nearly $95 million toward the FasTracks sales tax with nothing tangible to show for it.

I served as treasurer to former RTD board member Mary Blue at the time of the initial FasTracks ballot issue in 2004.  I was also part of the FasTracks election team and helped to gather petition signatures to get FasTracks on the ballot.

The initiative passed district-wide by 57% to 43%.  Little did I know that I would end up being duped like the rest of my neighboring taxpayers.

It also became obvious to me that no one from Longmont travels to/from downtown Denver by going through Boulder.  FRPR regrettably maintains this zigzag routing with its chosen plan for the northern Front Range.

It would have been better to finish the FasTracks Northwest Line to Boulder only, and run any proposed passenger rail route straight down the U.S. 287 corridor to Denver.

Light rail has been a useful amenity for some metro Denver residents over the last 20 years, but did you know that less than 4% of commuters ride FasTracks?  The rail project has done nothing to relieve traffic congestion, and the FRPR intercity concept won’t either.

Let’s say I have a friend or family member departing on a flight and I need to take them to Denver International (DIA) from my home in north Longmont.   I load their luggage in back of my SUV and take a smooth drive to the airport via I-25/E470 (two $4.65 License Plate Tolls).  I can have my passenger at the DIA departures curb in just under an hour.

Now let’s take that same scenario if my traveler were to use FRPR if and when it becomes an option in the future.

First I would have to drive them to a new Longmont transit station in the south part of town.  Next they check their luggage for an FRPR train to Boulder, likely stop in Boulder, then continue on to Union Station in Denver where they would need to unload and transfer to the FasTracks A Line train to DIA.

The whole convoluted trip would likely take at least two hours with who knows how much in combined fare costs.

The reality is that the automobile gets you precisely where you want to go, when you want to go, carrying what you want, and making as many stops as you need on your own timetable.  You also have better personal security than you would in the public transit environment.

We have a deeply rooted car culture in the American West, much different than the densely populated landscapes of Europe or parts of Asia where extensive train networks are more suitable.

It’s easy to see why Gov. Polis and the progressives are so enamored with intercity trains for our region.  It fits the enviro-left agenda of anti-fossil fuels, anti-car, anti-suburbs, and transit oriented development.

This mindset limits individual freedoms by cramming people into high density cities for increased indexing and control of their lives, including public transportation.

Air pollution from modern gas-powered autos is grossly overstated by the green crowd as well.  Since the inception of the Clean Air Act and vehicle emissions testing, Denver has admirably decreased its ozone and sulfur dioxide levels by 300-400% from the brown cloud era of 50 years ago.

It’s the highly politicized Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that keeps moving the goalposts with draconian ozone health standards.  EPA brands the northern Front Range a “severe violator” when practically speaking it really isn’t the case.

Another drawback with Front Range rail is that the initial plan will run only three inbound trains in the morning and three outbound trains in the evening on shared BNSF freight tracks.  A lot of good that’s going to do you if you need a round trip for an evening concert or sports event in downtown Denver.

The FRPR boondoggle is not projected to be operational until 10-15 years from now and will very likely have cost overruns.  Voting taxpayers would be smart to stop the project right in its tracks at the ballot box come November elections.

Dave Larison is a retired NOAA meteorologist who has lived in Longmont since 1980.


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