Cost hikes on FasTrack

Posted 9/18/08

Tom Munds FasTracks must change because of the skyrocketing construction and fuel costs coupled with lower-than-expected revenue collections. The …

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Cost hikes on FasTrack


Tom Munds

FasTracks must change because of the skyrocketing construction and fuel costs coupled with lower-than-expected revenue collections. The estimated cost of the project has increased from $4.7 billion to $7.9 billion.

FasTracks is the 12-year project to expand the metro area mass transit system. Plans were to add a total of 119 miles of light rail and commuter rail lines, enhance bus networks, transform Union Station into the metro-area transit hub, create five new park-N-Ride facilities and improve existing transit systems and facilities. The project was scheduled to be completed by 2017.

The project proposes building a mass transit system that includes light rail lines to the west to Golden and north to Longmont, a commuter-rail line from Union Station to Denver International Airport and a rapid-transit bus corridor to Boulder. Additionally, the proposal extends the Southwest Corridor Light Rail Line to Highlands Ranch and the Southeast line to Skyridge Medical Center.

“The Regional Transportation District completed the annual evaluation earlier this year, looking at the costs, revenues and the projected costs to move forward with FasTracks as planned,” Pauletta Tonilas, FasTracks information officer, said. “The result is it would take an estimated $7.9 billion to build the planned project and complete it by 2017 as promised.”

FasTracks managers developed five options and now, plan a series of meeting to let people voice how they feel about the project and how they feel it should proceed.

The five options are:

Build what FasTracks can afford by 2017 which could not include the entire program.

Use the money from voter-approved revenues and extend the construction schedule beyond 2017 to complete the entire project which probably would take until 2034.

Seek voter approval for tax hikes to produce the additional revenues to complete the entire project on time.

Create an incremental-service system in some areas, which would be a single-track system that reduces frequency of service and may only provide service during peak hours.

Members of the RTD board of directors and staff will attend the meeting, which will be held between Sept. 24 and Oct. 24 to explain the issues and options plus to answer questions and record public testimony. The dates and times of the meetings, one in each of RTD’s 15 districts, are currently being confirmed.

Planning for the project began with the 2003 budget and projections were based on historic revenue trends. RTD estimated a 3.3 percent annual increase in costs. However, fuel prices reached an all-time high and the ripple effect was partly responsible for an 11.65 percent increase in construction costs.

RTD used a similar method projecting revenues, estimating an average 6.6 percent annual increase in sales-tax collections. The slumping economy meant people spent less and that is born out by the fact FasTracks sales-tax collections only grew 2.5 percent in 2008 and the revised forecast is for sales-tax collections to fall below estimates, creating a $2.8 billion reduction in projected revenues.

Simon Wexler, a Highlands Ranch resident, said he heard about the proposed changes and wants to see the whole project built on time so it’ll be an easier commute to work by light rail.

“I drive to the Mineral Station five days a week to ride the (light rail) trail downtown to work. A station in Highlands Ranch would sure make that commute easier,” he said. “I didn’t like the fact the extension of the light rail line to Highlands Ranch wasn’t to be completed by 2017 but I made up my mind to live with it, Now, it looks like that could be pushed back several years. Personally, I would rather pay more taxes and get the line done on time than see it delayed.”

Budget woes require FasTracks plan changes

officials plan hearing to explain options, gather public opinion


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