RTD Explores Money Options To Catch Up On Unfinished FasTracks Trains

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
An RTD A Line train crosses Green Valley Ranch Boulevard on its way to Denver International Airport June 12, 2019.
Photo: RTD A Line Green Valley Ranch Boulevard June 12, 2019
An RTD A Line train crosses Green Valley Ranch Boulevard on its way to Denver International Airport June 12, 2019.

Unless more funding is generated, Regional Transportation District staff now say that a passenger rail line to Boulder and Longmont won’t open in full capacity until after 2050, though under one scenario limited service may begin in 2042.

RTD’s previous estimate for a train between Boulder and Denver was 2042. The new timeline presented Tuesday is part of multiple scenarios the RTD board is considering in its quest to finish lines laid out in a 2004 sales tax vote known as FasTracks.

About 75 percent of those lines are now complete, with RTD investing about $5.6 billion so far. The agency originally said the whole project would cost $4.7 billion and be done by 2017, but rising costs and the Great Recession put many projects decades behind schedule.

The unfinished projects, after the N Line to Thornton opens in 2020, are:

CorridorDescriptionDaily Ridership ForecastCapital CostO&M
CentralConnect 30th & Downing Light Rail to A Line at 38th & Blake3,200$140M$2.6M
North Metro CompletionExtend N Line from 124th Ave to State Highway 73,100$280M$3.6M
Northwest Rail CompletionExtend B Line from Westminster to Boulder/Longmont4,100$1.5B$20.6M
SW ExtensionLight rail from Mineral Ave. to C-4703,700$170M$3.2M

Staff put forth three funding scenarios:

  • No new funding. Under this scenario, RTD would finish the Central, North and Southwest lines by 2041. The Northwest line wouldn’t be completed until after 2050. Or, limited service on the Northwest line could begin in 2042 at the expense of every other line.
  • More borrowing. This option assumes a successful public vote by 2032, and would result in the Central, North and Southwest lines being completed by 2039. Limited service on the Northwest line would begin in 2048.
  • More bonding and a tax hike. If voters approve at least a 0.1 percent sales and use tax increase in 2021, all unfinished corridors would be complete by 2040.

Various other options under each funding scenario were also discussed, and are outlined in the staff presentation. Cost estimates from Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which owns the necessary right of way, could change figures and timelines too.

RTD Board Director Judy Lubow acknowledged that delays over the last 15 years have resulted in some impatient constituents.

“Not to throw water on things, but where I live, I don’t know how probable it is that a tax increase would pass for RTD,” Lubow, who represents a northern metro district, told the board. “There’s a lot of animosity.”

RTD General Manager Dave Genova said the various scenarios are a good starting point for discussions with voters and other stakeholders.

“Some of them may be very challenging, about our history with Fastracks,” Genova said. “It’s my job, and our job, to change that dialogue.”

Voters could soon see another request for more money for passenger rail. The Colorado Department of Transportation is exploring a plan that could involve a 2020 ballot measure to help fund passenger service from Fort Collins to Trinidad.

The RTD board will discuss the various scenarios again at a July 9 committee meeting. Genova stressed that the scenarios are not recommendations and could change in the coming months.