Denver’s Streetcar/Light Rail Horror Story

There are so many stories out there about rail systems that over-promise, under-deliver, and go way over budget. Denver is one major city that unwisely passed major tax hikes (with voter approval) to pay for a train system. In that city’s case, the train is called FasTracks. Unfortunately, although not unpredictably, as was written up recently in the Denver Post, the system is costing way more to build than originally anticipated — or at least what the politicians were willing to tell the voters to get the system approved.
According to the article:

Voters approved a $4.7 billion FasTracks plan in 2004, agreeing to pay an additional 0.4 percent sales tax for RTD to build 119 miles of rail throughout the metro area by 2017. RTD says it needs an additional 0.4 percent sales tax — which would bring its total to 1.4 percent.

Also, as I mentioned earlier, unrealistic assumptions were integral to getting voter approval:

RTD used relatively aggressive projections for long-term growth of sales-tax revenues in its 2004 FasTracks plan. Lower revenue forecasts might have forced RTD to scale back the project or seek a bigger tax increase, hurting its chances at the polls. The Post found that RTD’s revenue growth projections were among the highest of eight transit and planning agencies in the West and Midwest. Only planners in Phoenix used a higher average long-term growth projection.

Thankfully, at least to date, Albuquerque has not followed Denver to streetcar hell. Hopefully stories from Denver deter politicians and voters alike from going down the same track.
HT: Harold Morgan

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