NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 25, 2010

In 2004 Denver became a public-transport planner's dream, says The Economist.  The sprawling western metropolis approved a $4.7 billion project, known as FasTracks, which aimed to add six new light and commuter railway lines along with 18 miles of bus lanes across the metropolitan area, all to be built by 2017.  

Thirty-two regional mayors backed the plan and residents agreed to help pay for it with a 0.4 percent sales tax, topped up with federal grant money.   At the time, John Hickenlooper, Denver's mayor, said that "the whole community came together in the region at a level that we've never seen before." 

A lot has changed since then -- little of it involving actual construction, says The Economist: 

  • Only one track is under way and planning studies now price the project at $6.5 billion, because of higher construction costs and new safety requirements imposed after two commuter-rail crashes in California in 2005 and 2008.
  • Meanwhile, tax revenue is forecast at barely half of what was projected in 2004, thanks to the recession.
  • The result is a $2.4 billion shortfall and a scramble for alternative sources of finance.  

The Regional Transportation District (RTD), the body in charge of the project, is considering a ballot initiative that would double the sales tax to 0.8 percent.  But few think voters will agree, meaning the project's completion could be delayed until 2035 or scaled back to just one or two new lines.  RTD says work will begin later this year on a second line -- this one connecting downtown to the airport -- but only if it can raise $1 billion in private financing, along with a $1 billion grant from the Federal Transit Administration.  Neither is guaranteed, says The Economist. 

Source: Report, "Back to the drawing board," The Economist, February 20-26, 2010. 

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