The Denver metro area's FasTracks mass transit plan needs to be re-worked to meet the realities of the 21st century.
The latest analysis that supports this point was contained in yesterday's Denver Post in an essay written by Chuck Plunkett entitled "Prius effect: Energy-efficient cars undercut the appeal of light rail."
Essentially, Plunkett restates the reasons why I opposed the FasTracks plan and tax increase when it went before the voters in 2004. (Besides my contention that the plan was a gift to bond dealers and contractors and cost too much.)
Now, I think intercity and interstate passenger rail transportation is a terrific idea. Indeed,it is my opinion that creating a modern, high tech nationwide passenger railroad system should have been President Obama's shiny, futuristic, visionary goal for America to start during his term in office. For me, the idea of a north-south Rocky Mountain line running from Billings, Montana through Denver to Albuquerque, New Mexico would have provided a marvelous alternative to our crowded highways and unreliable (whose going bankrupt this week?) airlines.
But intra-city rail has a couple of big problems, it seems to me. First is that 'fixed rail' is, well, fixed. As populations shift, as local economies change, as new developments arise, and old neighborhoods decay, 'fixed rail' is stuck where flawed and imperfect planners put it in the first place. Second, an efficient light passenger rail system takes way, way too long to build.
So, besides the emerging fact that urban-suburban rail transit is not so environmentally friendly as the train romantics would have us believe, as Plunkett observes, light rail is old fashioned because it is not flexible and adaptable to urgent 21st century needs.
I still think that 'Bus Rapid Transit' (BRT) is a preferable concept. As hybrid and fuel cell technology comes on line, high tech buses will undoubtedly be cleaner in the future. Additionally, since miles and miles of railway don't need to be constructed, BRT can be much more rapidly offered to citizens for use since it mainly uses existing infrastructure.
So, RTD is in a bind because it doesn't have enough money to build-out FasTracks on the original schedule. They will either have to ask for yet another tax increase or extend the time line for completion out to something like the year 2100.
Naturally, I'll oppose any tax increase for the flawed FasTracks for the same reasons I opposed it five years ago ... nothing has changed.
Instead, I would propose that RTD go to the voters next year with a simply request that the FasTracks mandate be expanded to include installing Bus Rapid Transit instead of fixed rail. That's a common sense solution that would expedite more mass transit getting into the Denver metro area sooner and cheaper.
Of course, that won't happen -- the bond dealers and contractors and government bureaucrats and 'train romantics' and sentimental environmentalists want their trolley cars and big city trains and they will not be deterred by economic realities or ecological truths.