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Light Rail in Denver: Taking the Taxpayers for a Ride

IP-4-97 (February 1997)
Author: Stephen R. Mueller and Dennis Polhill

PDF of full Issue Paper
Scribd version of full Issue Paper

Executive Summary

Congress is considering giving Denver hundreds of millions of dollars to construct an eight mile extension of the existing five mile light rail system. The Regional Transportation District (RTD) is pushing for a vote on a tax increase to fund even more ligth rail With new EPA air quality standards looming over the city, the battle over the light rail system is about to begin. The facts show that light rail in Denver is a waste of money:

  • Light rail requires subsidies forever. Every light rail project in the nation, once funded by the federal government, has requested additional federal funding to provide operating assistance. Refusing to fund new light rail projects will help congress avoid future additional construction and operating subsidies.
  • The costs are too high. Light rail will not reduce traffic congestion, nor will it improve air quality. In addition, there will be no economic benefit. In fact, there will be a huge net loss to the economy.
  • There are better solutions to Denver’s transportation needs. The amount of travel done by rail is a fraction of that done by highway vehicles. This situation is not going to change with the construction of light rail. People have increasingly highway improvements, carpool lanes, and buses would be far more beneficial to Denver that light rail.
  • The people of Denver have already voted against light rail, rejecting it by 54 to 46 percent margin.