So it would seem that even "steady funding" isn't always going get these things finished. I worry for TC.Denver's transport woes
Back to the drawing board
A model transit project hits trouble
Feb 18th 2010
| DENVER |
From The Economist print edition
Not coming soon to a station near you
IN 2004 Denver became a public-transport planner’s dream. 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 (29km) 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% 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. Only one track is under way. 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%. 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.
Nerves are starting to fray. Critics argue that RTD’s revenue projections were flawed and that it lacks the capacity to build several lines at once. Towns and businesses north of Denver are angry that a northbound rail line is scheduled to be one of the last completed, arguing that it may never be built even though their residents pay an equal share of the sales tax.
Like many western cities, Denver is in desperate need of more public transport. Its metropolitan area has grown by half a million residents since 2000, and the population is predicted to increase from 2.7m in 2005 to 4.3m by 2035. Years of highway-driven sprawl have stretched the city and its suburbs across more than 700 square miles (up from 530 as recently as 1995), meaning that few people live close to work. The average commute is expected almost to double by 2035, adding to the time wasted snarled in traffic.
FasTracks’ boosters believe these statistics should convince Denverites to support another tax increase. But such concerns seem a luxury these days. RTD sees more promise in rebranding the project as a stimulus measure to create construction jobs, a strategy used to win support for a recent statewide road-improvement measure that is funded by charges on vehicles. This tactic may work, but RTD must still prove that it can pull the project off and keep everybody happy in the meantime.