All aboard in Roaring Fork?
November 9, 2006
The contentious debate over whether to build passenger rail service in the Roaring Fork Valley could be settled by voters statewide.A new organization called the Rocky Mountain Rail Authority is exploring the feasibility of developing rail service along Interstate 70 with branch service to all ski resorts along that corridor. It’s also looking into service along Interstate 25, from Wyoming to New Mexico.The authority has an aggressive plan to seek statewide voter approval in November 2008 for a sales tax to provide the revenues to build the infrastructure. Authority spokesman Bob Briggs said the goal is to have service along I-25 by 2016 and along I-70 two years later. He said federal funding could be acquired, particularly if an area in the mountains hosted a Winter Olympics. The federal government demonstrated in Utah during Winter Olympics and Los Angeles during Summer Olympics that it will help construct rail systems, he said.Briggs is a former state representative in Colorado and a former member of the Regional Transportation District’s board of directors in the Denver metro area. He said the concept of a broader passenger rail system hasn’t taken off because no one has championed it. He’s now that champion.He met with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s board of directors and staff Thursday to outline his group’s plan.”We can become the one that sets the standard for the rest of the nation to follow,” Briggs said.As Colorado’s population climbs from the current four million and the country’s tops 300 million, railroads will hold the key to avoiding transportation gridlock, Briggs said. If Colorado’s population grows at the same rate between 2000 and 2100 as it did between 1900 and 2000, there will be 18 million people in the state, according to Briggs.The Rocky Mountain Rail Authority has landed a grant to study the feasibility of passenger rail along the two interstate highway systems. Among the questions that study will answer are where can existing rail lines be used and where would new infrastructure have to be built. The biggest question, of course, is the cost of that extensive system.The feasibility study will be completed before the authority wants to approach voters in 2008.”It’s not our goal to reinvent,” Briggs said. “It’s our goal to make it happen.”Pitkin County voters rejected the idea of funding light rail service in the 1998. Critics said the valley couldn’t afford to build and operate a system. This proposal would spread the cost statewide. Details on operating revenues weren’t available.RFTA’s board members climbed aboard the embryonic effort on Thursday. They contributed $5,000 to join the Rocky Mountain Rail Authority. Briggs is asking all jurisdictions that would be affected by the rail service to join the authority – from big cities like Denver and Aurora to small towns like Gypsum and Basalt.RFTA was the second entity to become a member. Numerous others are expected to join by year’s end.”We want all the people who think we hate rail to know we’re the second member,” said Bruce Christensen, Glenwood Springs mayor and RFTA board member. Dorothea Farris, RFTA board chairwoman and Pitkin County commissioner, volunteered to serve on the rail authority’s board.More about the Rocky Mountain Rail Authority’s plan is available on the web at http://www.rangerxpress.com.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.