Curious Colorado: We Answer Your Questions On Light Rail In Colorado

May 30, 2018

More people than ever are using the state’s roads, buses and rail lines to get around. As we learned from your Curious Colorado questions, you have a lot of questions about how the state’s transportation systems will keep up with the ever-growing population.

To satisfy your curiosity, KUNC’s Matt Bloom tracked down answers to some of your questions.

Trevor from Boulder askedI regularly commute from the Boulder area to Denver using the regional bus system. I have heard talk of a light rail system that would connect these two major cities on the Front Range. Is this project in the works? How long might it take to implement such a project?

The short answer: Yes. It’s in the works.

The Regional Transportation District (RTD) has developed several ideas to make it easier to get between Boulder and Denver – the main one being a 41-mile-long rail service between downtown Denver and Longmont. The proposed route, called the “B Line” would pass through north Denver, Adams County, Westminster, Broomfield, Louisville and Boulder when complete.

But since it was introduced in 2004, the voter-approved FasTracks plan has seen major delays because of funding issues following the Great Recession and complications in RTD’s right-of-way purchasing agreements with local freight companies. 

The first 6.2-mile stretch opened between Denver and Westminster in 2016, but the project’s overall completion date is now set at around 2040, according to RTD.

In its effort to alleviate that two-decade-long wait, the agency has added rapid transit bus routes between the two cities, such as the Flatiron Flyer.

RTD is also conducting a feasibility study on bringing a bus rapid transit route along Highway 119 between Boulder and Longmont.

Anonymous asked: I want a serious investment in commuter rail along the I-25 corridor, from Cheyenne, WY to Santa Fe, NM. This is something that has been under discussion in one way or another since I moved here in 1978. Why has this taken so long?

Two words: Communication and funding.

According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, there have been many ideas to connect Cheyenne all the way down to Albuquerque, New Mexico with a commuter rail line. But getting the public, local and state governments all on the same page with the details has proved difficult.

In 2017 the state legislature created a commission to hopefully improve communications across the board: the new Southwest Chief And Front Range Passenger Rail Commission. It’s a replacement of the old (and even longer named) Southwest Chief Rail Line Economic Development, Rural Tourism, And Infrastructure Repair and Maintenance Commission.

According to CDOT, the new commission’s job is to coordinate efforts between state and local governments, Amtrak and the BNSF Railway as they explore the feasibility of a commuter rail along the I-25 corridor. It presented its first report to lawmakers in December 2017, outlining major questions and hurdles around rail speed and connection with other transportation modes.  

In December, the commission also requested nearly $9 million dollars from the state to conduct a 2-year public engagement campaign on the premise of a Front Range passenger rail along I-25. It was granted that money in this year’s Senate Bill 1, a large transportation funding measure.

You can read about the commission’s most-recent findings and plans here. The next official update will likely come later this year.

Anonymous asked: I applaud the fact that I-25 north of Longmont will be widened to 3 lanes. Still, with many people commuting to Denver it makes so much sense to have a rail system from Fort Collins to downtown Denver. Yes, there was a recession, but how do we get this done?

The Southwest Chief And Front Range Passenger Rail Commission has outlined the many steps needed to make that rail system dream a reality.

The first step, according to CDOT, is figuring out what kind of rail system would serve the Front Range’s growing population best. No one knows exactly what that looks like yet.

A few of the questions the commission is addressing in its public engagement efforts this year: Who exactly will be served by this rail? What kind of technology should the rail incorporate? How fast should it run?

Second is preparing a funding plan for the capital construction, support facilities and the train cars themselves. This step also includes determining a governance plan for the rail system, conducting legal formation and the passage of a governance district for the project.

The next step is completing environmental studies and preliminary design plans that meet federal standards.

After that, the state can start building the rail system to the tune of at least $27 million per mile, depending on how fast we want the train to go. The faster the train, the more expensive it is to build the infrastructure.

Final design and construction of the rail line itself is estimated to take at least 7 years.

For more details on the “how” of a rail system in Colorado, you can check out the Southwest Chief And Front Range Passenger Rail Commission’s timeline here.

Samson Patton asked: Is there a plan for better or more comprehensive public transportation? Trains? Bus lanes?

Yes, there is:  the “2040 Statewide Transportation Plan.” It was released back in 2015 by the Colorado Department of Transportation. It’s so massive that the agency created an entire website for it.

According to CDOT, the effort brought together more than 60,000 Coloradans, 10 rural transportation planning regions and five metropolitan planning organizations. The plan includes statewide priorities for better public transit, as well as region-specific issues.

Have more questions on light rail projects or other transportation issues? We want to hear from you. 

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