During a public meeting in Denver on April 13, the Regional Transportation District’s Board of Directors unanimously decided against asking voters to bridge the estimated $2.4-billion funding gap for its FasTracks project by requesting a tax increase on the 2010 ballot.
The decision came after months of discussion about whether voters would approve a measure to increase taxes by 0.4%, or four cents for every $10 spent, on top of the 0.4% increase approved by voters in 2004.
“We have been very diligent about thinking through all the latest information surrounding FasTracks, including feedback from our regional stakeholders,” said Lee Kemp, RTD board chair. “The last part of the process was to hear directly from the public—our customers and taxpayers.”
At the public meeting, the majority of speakers said this year wouldn’t be the right time for a sales tax increase. A survey of likely voters in the RTD district, completed by the Coalition for Smart Transit in March, revealed that 40% of respondents feel the transportation district is partially or fully responsible for FasTracks’ budget challenges.
Since the project came online in 2004, it has fallen victim to an increase in the cost of materials and a decrease in sales tax revenue, raising the original cost estimate of $4.6 billion.
According to RTD, if a sales tax vote would have been passed in 2010, the transportation district could finish its now $7.2-billion project by 2017, as originally planned. But, without doubling the current FasTracks sales tax, it could take a number of decades to complete, said Pauletta Tonilas, RTD public information manager. Current estimates indicate that the entire FasTracks system might not be completed until 2042, and many of the lines will be piecemealed together—including the Northwest train to Boulder/Longmont, the North Metro commuter-rail line to Thornton and Northglenn and the Interstate 225 light-rail line in Aurora.
Although voters won’t be asked to pay for the funding gap this year, the construction project will continue to be built out with existing funds. Currently, RTD has the 12-mile West Corridor light-rail route from Denver through Lakewood to Golden under construction. If RTD gets, as it expects, $1 billion from the Federal Transit Administration, the Gold Line train from Union Station to Arvada and Wheat Ridge can be built as well, Tonilas added.
“We do have enough money to also build the 24-mile commuter train from Union Station to Denver International Airport,” she said. RTD expects to ask voters for a tax increase in either 2011 or 2012 to fund the project, which includes in total six new train lines in metro Denver and extensions to three existing light-rail lines.