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RTD: Without new funding, Northwest Line to Boulder County won't be finished until after 2050

Staff looking at scenarios to speed up completion
Posted at 12:23 AM, Jun 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-21 08:11:06-04

DENVER — If you think it took a long time to get RTD's G Line up and running, you may be shocked by the transit agencies latest forecast for the Northwest Line, also known as the B Line.

RTD said, without an infusion of cash, people in Boulder County may have to wait another generation to get the service they were promised when FasTracks was approved by voters in 2004.

"The intent and plan was to have it all done by the end of 2017," said RTD's Assistant General Manager of Communications Pauletta Tonilas. "Then the recession hit."

She called it the perfect storm.

"Costs escalated beyond anything that anybody could anticipate and sales tax revenues plummeted," she said.

Tonilas said RTD had to find a way to keep FasTracks moving forward, so it formed a public/private partnership which built the "A" Line to the airport, the "G" Line to Wheat Ridge and a portion of the Northwest Line to Westminster.

Now, she said, RTD is looking at what it will take to finish the remaining FasTrack projects.

The RTD director who represents the district said she welcomes the "conversation."

"Many people are asking when we're going to get the rail," said District "O" Director Lynn Guissinger. "I think Longmont is certainly not getting it's fair share of FasTracks."

Nobody wants the project completed more than RTD, she added.

"We want to work with our regional partners to see how we can do that," she said.

She said staff presented a report to the RTD Board with several scenarios, which will be discussed at a July 9 board meeting. That includes:

  • Seeking more bonding authority through TABOR
  • Seeking more bonding authority but also more sales and use tax
  • Fees on Uber, Lyft and others using the streets
  • Selling or leasing air rights above RTD property
  • Enhanced parking fees

Tonilas said RTD is considering a "Peak Service Plan" on the Northwest Line that would make it possible to have a few trains in the morning, and a few in the evening, by 2042, but without more money, full service won't be possible until after 2050.

"We're opening up this dialogue and opening up the conversation because it's time for us to talk, regionally, about how we're going to enhance mobility," she said.

Boulder County Commissioner Deb Gardner said there are critical mobility needs now and they can't wait until 2042 or 2050 to address them.

"It's unacceptable that Boulder County residents have continued to pay the tax, but don't really feel they've received much reward for it," she said.

She added that RTD needs to find a way to address those mobility needs now, even if it costs more money and doesn't involve a train.

"But that money needs to feel like it's being directed to projects that will really bring solutions right now," she said. "We don't want to be taxed today for something that's going to mythically happen way into the future."

Gardner said it does no good to say they're unhappy and stomp their feet.

"We need to stay at the table and have conversations," she said. "We value our partnership with RTD."

She noted that the Flatiron Flyer, a bus rapid transit system between Boulder and Denver, is wildly successful and she'd like to see more services like that.

So does Ayanna Reed, a University of Colorado graduate student who travels to and from Longmont daily.

"I would love to have a train to Longmont," she said.

When asked about the long delay in getting train service, despite continually paying sales tax specifically for the project, Reed said, "What can you do?"

"It definitely makes people feel like their vote isn't being heard, that they're voices aren't being heard, and it's just something that, politically, you have to keep fighting for," she said.

Guissinger said RTD has been improving bus service in Boulder County.

"The region has been working with RTD and others to get bus rapid transit on Colorado Highway 119," she said. "The improvements on Highway 36 have been a huge success and now, Highway 7 in the east county is next."

Guissinger said more needs to be done, but that "money is always the issue."