Just days after President Biden released his $2 trillion infrastructure plan, Amtrak published a map showing its vision for 30 new routes across the country — including one along Colorado’s Front Range.
But with a closely divided U.S. Senate, Biden’s mega plan is no sure thing. And if the $80 billion for passenger rail Biden wants doesn’t materialize or is significantly reduced, should Coloradans resign themselves to more time sitting on Interstate 25?
The answer is no, they shouldn’t, said Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn. He told Colorado and Wyoming reporters on Monday that Amtrak is committed to the state’s Front Range rail project regardless of the outcome of the Biden proposal.
“We believe that our state-supported services are not contingent on just one piece of legislation,” Flynn said.
The money in Biden’s proposal would allow Amtrak to “go faster and do more,” added Amtrak President Stephen Gardner. He said the state’s existing support for the project among political leaders and the intense population growth along the Front Range are two key reasons why Amtrak wants to invest in Colorado.
“It’s a huge opportunity,” Gardner said. “You look at the map today and you look at these facts, and you say, ‘How is it that passenger rail doesn’t already serve this community?’ We spend too many decades at Amtrak, unfortunately, just keeping the system together and not investing in the places that America was growing.”
The state also intends to move forward. A new bill in the legislature would create a special district along the I-25 corridor that could eventually result in a public vote on raising taxes to help pay for the project. A very early estimate for a modest line between Fort Collins and Colorado Springs came in at $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion. A higher-speed, more frequent version could cost upward of $14 billion and take two to three decades to complete.
State leaders hope Amtrak’s involvement can speed up that timeline.
“We’re moving forward regardless [of the Biden proposal],” said Jill Gaebler, who sits on the rail commission and the Colorado Springs city council. “But we want to have Amtrak as our partner.”