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FasTracks on the Wrong Track

Opinion Editorial
February 16, 2010

By Brian Schwartz

The Daily Camera (Boulder) asked its Editorial Advisory Board members their views of different sales tax schemes for funding RTD’s “FasTracks.” My reply was published on Saturday, February 13:

Adaptable commuter transit routes, reducing traffic congestion with demand-sensitive road pricing, and minimizing both free-riders and forced funding. These goals should guide transportation policy. Taxing everyone to fund static commuter rail puts FasTracks on the wrong track.

RTD’s low-ball cost estimate is not surprising. In “16 Ways RTD Deceived Voters About FasTracks” economist Randal O’Toole notes that Southwest and Southeast light-rail lines costs 28% and 59% more than original estimates, respectively.

The controversy should not stop here, however. O’Toole shows how RTD has sold FasTracks with false advertising.

If FasTracks reduces traffic congestion, it would be negligible and short-lived given increasing vehicle traffic. It won’t reduce pollution, either. Denver’s light-rail trains emit more carbon dioxide per passenger mile than SUVs. “FasTracks adds almost six times as much nitrogen oxides into the air as all the cars it takes off the road,” O’Toole concludes.

The proposed Northwest rail corridor between Longmont, Boulder and Denver compares poorly to bus rapid transit. O’Toole summarizes RTD’s investment study: “Bus rapid transit was ten times more cost-effective at relieving congestion than commuter rail: it cost less than 60 percent as much to build, cost half as much to operate, and provided almost six times as much congestion relief.”

Bus rapid transit is just one alternative O’Toole discusses in his on-line “Mobility Plan for Denver” and new book Gridlock. Adding express toll lanes, coordinating traffic signals, and lifting restrictions on private transit services can also reduce traffic congestion and increase our mobility.