The Regional Transportation District Board of Directors soon will decide whether to ask voters this fall to double a 0.4-percent sales tax to help complete the FasTracks transit expansion program -- including the Northwest Rail Line to Boulder and Longmont. Here's a look at some of the options for using the money that cities are being asked to consider.
1. RTD could build out the Northwest Rail Line at an estimated cost of $1.7 billion, with a target completion date of 2024.
2. Plans for the Northwest Rail Line could be abandoned entirely and RTD would shift more than $890 million toward providing improved bus service between Denver and the Boulder/Longmont area.
3. The Northwest Rail Line could be delayed while money is invested in temporary improvements to bus service between Denver and the Boulder/Longmont area.
4. Without a new tax, RTD would continue to build out the entire FasTracks program, but it wouldn't be completed until 2042.
Boulder County may hold the key to the success or failure of a possible ballot measure this fall that would raise money for the beleaguered FasTracks rail transit program, Boulder officials say. And they're ready to make sure the city gets its due in exchange for helping the measure along.
Recently revised cost estimates for the Boulder County portion of the metro-wide rail plan now comes in at $1.7 billion, up from the previous estimate of $894.4 million. In an effort to get the project back on track, the Regional Transportation District is mulling whether to ask voters this fall to approve doubling the current 0.4-percent sales tax for the project.
Members of the Boulder City Council see that as an opportunity to get certain assurances that the U.S. 36 corridor and the Northwest Rail Line to Boulder and Longmont would get a fair share of the funds.
"In the end, I think everyone realizes... that for a ballot issue to be successful, it needs to pass handily in Boulder County," Mayor Matt Appelbaum said during a recent council meeting. "That is our leverage, to a very large extent."
He said that the city should work to make sure that a tax measure, or any alternative plan for investing heavily in the U.S. 36 corridor, is fair to Boulder and the surrounding communities. "If whatever comes out of this is something that Boulder County -- and perhaps more broadly, the U.S. 36 corridor -- cannot support, and where the elected officials in those areas are opposed to it, this thing has no chance of passing," Appelbaum said of a tax measure. "And I think everybody knows that."
Voters in Boulder County were critical to approving the original FasTracks sales tax in 2004. The county approved the measure with 64.4 percent of the vote, which was the second-widest margin of support after Denver. 'What does this mean for the corridor?'
Voters were told in 2004 to expect 119 miles of new rail that would be built through nine corridors in the Denver-metro area by 2017, including the Northwest Rail Corridor, which would connect Denver's Union Station to Longmont via Westminster, Broomfield, Louisville and Boulder. But an increase in construction costs and a decrease in sales tax revenues have left RTD billions of dollars short of what it needs to complete the system and bring commuter rail to Boulder County anytime soon.
"That has raised the question of, 'What does that mean for the corridor?'" Appelbaum said. Even RTD is not entirely sure. Pauletta Tonilas, a spokeswoman for the FasTracks project, said the RTD Board of Directors is scheduled to vote next month on whether to approve the FasTracks financial plan, which assumes the successful passage of a ballot measure.
If that happens, it would be a "pretty solid direction" that the board would push for a ballot measure this year, she said, although the final decision wouldn't come until later this spring. Ahead of that meeting, RTD has asked stakeholder cities to provide input on a range of alternative options.