A project to create a passenger rail line from Fort Collins to Pueblo – and even further – is still in its early stages. The Southwest Chief and Front Range Passenger Rail Commission in charge of the project briefed state lawmakers on Thursday.
Jacob Riger, the vice-chair of the Commission said the group would spend part of next year establishing a preferred route for the line.
“Do we want to directly serve downtown Denver and go to Denver Union Station, or do we want to circumvent the core and go more around the edge, get to Denver International Airport?” Riger said. “It’s a balance of cost, travel time, and effort.”
Riger said building the passenger rail system would be an expansive — and expensive — project.
In the briefing, he confirmed that the commission would ask for funding from the legislature to continue examining the project. The long-term cost of passenger rail would be high.
“We do know that we need ongoing dedicated funding to make this work — all hands on deck,” said Riger.
Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace, chair of the commission, said any rail line would need to connect to other transportation hubs such as Colorado Springs and Denver to meet its overall goal of improving traffic and connectivity and making sure people would use it.
“My drive up here this morning is a prime example,” he said. “Our congestion on our roads is proof in itself the need for alternatives, and I was on a stretch of the road that had five lanes. It’s a question of will we ever have enough capacity? Do we have to go to 15 lanes across?”
Pace said any future project would not rely primarily on money from the state budget because that annual appropriation that can get bogged down in politics.
Earlier this year there was a bi-partisan effort to send a ballot question to voters to ask for a tax increase for roads and bridges. The proposal didn’t pass the legislature despite high-level support.
It’s estimated that Colorado still faces a multibillion-dollar shortfall to maintain and update existing roads and bridges. That problem is not expected to improve, especially with population increases predicted to continue.