July 5, 2000
By Stephen R. Mueller
I can hardly wait for the day that RTDs dreams and promises come true. We will see a light rail system that carries hundreds of thousands of people briskly throughout the entire Denver metropolitan region each and every day.
July 14, 2000 is the day that will ignite the vision. Hundreds of dignitaries and light rail supporters will flood the light rail stations along South Santa Fe Drive to extol the virtues of the shiny new Southwest Corridor light rail line throughout the weekend. FREE RIDES FOR EVERYONE!
How could you not get excited about light rail? Television cameras, radio microphones and every newspaper in the region will transmit the message that light rail is needed for the future of our community. The highway system is in gridlock, and riding one of the sleek, new, very expensive ($2 million each) light rail cars will solve everyones case of road rage.
Dont let me dampen your joy, but underneath all of the media hype there are lots of missing facts, and outright lies are being told. Politicians will vie for air time during the ribbon cutting, especially those under the influence of OPiuM (Other Peoples Money), so consider the sources as you watch and listen.
After studying the development of the SW Corridor light rail project for over five years, Ive made a list of the sound bites youll never hear and the headlines youll never read after this project is opened to the public. Unfortunately, harsh truths are rarely a part of contrived celebrations.
Youll never read: Light rail reduced traffic congestion on Santa Fe. I checked the CDOT website for the traffic count information on Santa Fe State Highway 85 and found that the data is out of date, and hourly traffic counts were only provided at a single location just north of C-470. That is well south of where the new light rail line ends. CDOT isnt even collecting the data needed measure the impacts of the new light rail line on the adjacent traffic. The maxim If you dont want to know the answer, dont ask the question is being applied by the politically correct leadership at CDOT, to the frustration of the real transportation engineers in the department.
Youll never read: Light rail reduced air pollution in Littleton and Englewood. Not only is the data NOT being collected, light rail advocates know very few people are actually going to abandon their cars so there will be NO measurable impact on air pollution.
Youll never read: HOV lanes more effective than light rail at reducing traffic congestion on Santa Fe. As a regular driver on Santa Fe, I have enjoyed using the HOV lanes that opened several years ago. Congestion was certainly reduced, and if I decide to carpool, I almost never have sit through multiple cycles of stoplights. HOV lanes and carpooling seem like a viable alternative to sitting in a traffic jam. As a taxpayer, Id like to know if that investment provided better returns than the $180 million dollar Southwest Corridor light rail line. Again, the data isnt being collected or analyzed by either CDOT or RTD.
Finally, youll never read: SW Corridor light rail line cost 44% over initial cost estimates. In 1994, RTD publications promised DRCOG a light rail line adjacent to Santa Fe for a price of $126 million. Unfortunately, every politician who will be on the dais on July 14 has been told that the line is on time and under budget. The projects final budget was set well out of the publics eye and it was set a lot higher than the initial promises to our elected decision-makers. Cant we agree that $54 million dollars (our tax money) is worth quibbling about?
Last November, voters approved RTDs financing plan that will allow the construction of another light rail line adjacent to I-25, the so-called Southeast Corridor. Will CDOT and RTD continue to bury their heads in the sand or will they make legitimate efforts to document the costs and benefits of these outrageously expensive trolleys?
Despite these dismal issues, I hope everyone has a good time on your free rides. It will indeed be interesting to see how many of you leave your SUVs behind and pay the $4.00 per person round trip light rail fare once all the hoopla subsides.
Steve Mueller is the Senior Fellow in Transportation Policy at the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, https://i2i.org.
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