By Ben DeGrow | Special to Colorado Watchdog
Taxpaying residents on the north side of the Denver area have awakened to an unpleasant truth: You don’t always get what you pay for.
This harsh $243 million lesson comes home, compliments of the Regional Transportation District.
As a result of RTD’s failure to deliver any of the promised Northwest Rail Line, the Denver Post’s transportation writer Monte Whaley reported Sunday that denizens of places like Broomfield, Boulder and Longmont are “ready to revolt.”
The south metro area has long had its light rail connection, while a plan voters approved eight years ago is slowly making tracks into the western suburbs and eastward through the fields to Denver International Airport.
In 2004, RTD successfully pitched metro area residents for the FasTracks tax increase to fund an extensive light rail project originally estimated at $4.7 billion. The West Line to Lakewood and Golden is scheduled to be completed next year, with RTD slating Arvada’s Gold Line and the route to DIA for completion by 2016.
If you could guarantee north metro residents a completed rail line four years from now, they would be ecstatic. While contributing $243 million out of nearly $1 billion in tax revenue to the FasTracks project, the Post story indicates RTD is only promising six of the 41 miles to be ready by 2016. Meanwhile, the goal to complete the Northwest Line is 2044.
By 2044? I’ll be collecting Social Security by then, if the program is still around.
Boulder Mayor Matt Appelbaum told Whaley “no one really believes (completion by 2044 is) going to happen.” He joins others who have expressed their skepticism about RTD’s promises. A 2009 Independence Institute issue paper by Randal O’Toole chronicled a web of deceptions spun by RTD to win its 2004 tax election.
Foremost among the causes for skepticism is the question of where RTD will get the money. In 2008, it acknowledged the FasTracks project would end up costing $7.9 billion, not the promised $4.7 billion. Even the higher figure seems dubious now.
At the same time, the ongoing recession has undercut the projected revenue. Four months ago, RTD set aside a proposal to double the FasTracks tax. The decision looks even wiser when you consider how much of an accomplishment it is to alienate the People’s Republic of Boulder from supporting your tax hike.
In December, Gov. John Hickenlooper sought to reassure north metro mayors that the goals of FasTracks remain alive. The Post then quoted him, saying he would “accept a certain amount of responsibility” for “overly optimistic” financial projections. As Denver mayor, Hickenlooper served as the public face for the 2004 public transit tax-raising campaign.
However, the latest backlash only leaves us wondering just how close FasTracks is to being derailed.