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RTD Weighs Options for Northwest Corridor

The Regional Transportation District is weighing a new plan that postpones completion of the FasTracks rail project in Boulder County. KUNC’s Brian Larson spoke with Boulder County Business Report Publisher Chris Wood about the RTD proposal, local reaction and what’s next.

Larson: RTD is moving forward with rail projects throughout the Denver metro area. So why are they now backing away from completing a rail line in what they call the Northwest Corridor?

Wood: It all comes down to dollars, Brian. When RTD first proposed FasTracks in 2004, they estimated that the Northwest line would cost $895 million dollars to complete 80 miles of rail. A total of nine lines were envisioned throughout the metro area, including the Northwest Corridor, which would go from Westminster, through Broomfield, Louisville and Boulder all the way to Longmont. Even as costs have ballooned, sales-tax revenues have been less than expected because of the economy. So RTD now says there’s not enough money to complete the Northwest line.

Larson: Well if they can’t complete the rail line – than what are they recommending for the area?

Wood: Essentially, rail to Longmont becomes an open-ended proposition. RTD officials have recommended completion of one segment of rail, to Westminster, by 2020 or 2022, but with no completion date set for the rest of the line. They say the remainder of the line would be completed as costs become more effective and financing becomes more available. In the meantime, they propose a bus rapid transit system from Westminster to Longmont. And that plan, Brian, requires a successful FasTracks sales-tax election in November. Without it, the rail line would still be built, but wouldn’t be completed until 2042 – another 30 years.

Larson: I’m sure reaction to this has been colorful to say the least.

Wood: We’ve seen a mixed reaction. Some officials in Longmont and Louisville are downright angry, but the reception has been a bit better in Boulder, where the Camera newspaper described Boulder mayor Matt Appelbaum as being “cautiously optimistic” about a bus rapid transit system. In other communities, there’s definitely a feeling that voters in Boulder County have been paying for other areas to get rail service and now won’t get it themselves. There’s a feeling that promises have been broken, and it could affect the real estate market as well.

Larson: Affect the real estate market? How so?

Wood: Well, a number of communities in the Northwest corridor have been working on transit-oriented developments. Land has been purchased, and developments have been planned, all with the idea that RTD trains will be coming to the region. Some cities, such as Boulder, have plans that include retail, housing, hotels and office space. Longmont is working on a transit-oriented development downtown, and city officials have really viewed FasTracks as a catalyst for downtown revitalization. Some of these projects probably will go forward, especially in Boulder, but uncertainty about FasTracks feeds uncertainty for these private and public-sector developers.

Larson: So what’s the next step in all of this?

Wood: The RTD board will meet on March 20 to vote on the plan. After that, any ballot measure would have to be approved by the Denver Regional Council of Governments.

Larson: Chris, thank you. Chris Wood is the publisher of the Boulder County Business Report.

Boulder County Business Report publisher Chris Wood helped create the Northern Colorado Business Report in 1995. He previously served as managing editor of the Denver Business Journal. Chris discusses regional business and economic issues in Boulder County every other Thursday at 5:35 and 7:35 during Morning Edition.
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