CALDARA | Latest rail pitch plays us for suckers | Columns | denvergazette.com
CALDARA | Latest rail pitch plays us for suckers
- May 30, 2021
Get ready to be railroaded. Again. You’ve been dragooned twice before, and
they’re going for the hat trick.
The Colorado legislature is creating a brand-new government to add atop the
5,000-plus we already have. Its goal? Like nearly everything this legislature
is pumping out, is to raise taxes. This time for choo-choo trains.
And if there is anyone who should know what a folly this is, it’s Jared Polis.
He’s learned firsthand what an empty promise rail is as he waits with the rest
of his hometown of Boulder for a train we’ve been paying for since 2004 that
Let’s do a little history. Colorado was built by railroads. Private railroads
connected us to the rest of the country. Without the first rail line from
Denver to the transcontinental railroad in Wyoming, Denver might be a little
sleepy town today.
Once roads were built, bringing ultimate flexibility and self-direction, rail
was used only to carry freight and people who wanted to be treated like freight.
Denver built light rail, via the Denver Tramway Corporation, that ran trolleys.
In fact, the building that now houses the boutique Hotel Teatro used to be the
Denver’s trolley tracks were paved over starting in 1950. But rail zombies
can’t be killed.
The choo-choo undead came back in 1971 with a public vote to fund the newly
created Regional Transportation District, where I would one day become chairman
of the board. (That got me a free bus pass, and let me tell you, the ladies
just love a man with a bus pass).
In exchange for a half-penny sales tax, voters were promised 118 miles of fixed
guideway transit rail. It was to be completed by 1980, then the sales tax was
to be cut in half.
The rail never materialized and the tax was never reduced. So, suckers, you’re
still paying for a rail system that was going to be completed and paid off 41
Then in 2004, RTD sold the same scam. Voters approved a full 1% sales tax to
build out another 118-ish-mile rail system for $4.3 billion, which was to be
completed by 2017. The price tag has nearly doubled since. And ask the
taxpayers in Boulder how the buildout is going.
Even to build just what RTD has, they had to break many of their promises. Much
of FasTracks is single-tracked, not double-tracked, making the capacity half.
The cruelest budget cut is in human lives. The promised, elevated intersections
were replaced with “at grade” rail crossings, putting rail where automobiles
and pedestrians go. As predicted, many people have been killed. Per passenger
mile, light rail is the deadliest of transportation.
And the opportunity cost of Fastracks is the massive auto traffic it now
causes. First by taking right-of-way that could have been used to expand
roadways. Next time you’re stuck in the parking lot on I-25 between downtown
and the Tech Center, look over at the light-rail track. Imagine if that space
was a car/carpool/transit/toll lane you could use.
The other reason it caused more traffic is it took away the funding capacity
that could be used to build and fix our roads. Simply, our roads suck because
transit took all the money. CDOT’s wish list is $9 billion WITH transit and
bike-lane silliness. Failed Fastracks is over $7 billion. We bought choo-choos
instead of roads.
You cannot kill the transit undead because of the strange bedfellows that make
up their coalition — Birkenstocks and neckties. The hardcore progressives who
want to control how people live and commute (they did go to environmental
design school after all) join the capitalist cronies who gorge themselves on
public works projects.
So, along comes Senate Bill 238 to create a brand new “RTD” using the same scam
from 1971 — start a new government, then tax those in it later.
The mission is to raise taxes for a Front-Range passenger rail system from
Wyoming to New Mexico. Conveniently, the boundaries of this new district don’t
include those ugly conservative counties that would surely vote against a tax
Gov. Polis, before you sign this third rail fraud into law, maybe you should
wait until they make good on the last boondoggle and build that train to your
Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute in Denver and hosts "The
Devil's Advocate with Jon Caldara" on Colorado Public Television Channel 12.
His column appears Sundays in Colorado Politics.