The thought of a backup on Interstate 25 can bring a groan to any driver. But if a state commission has its way, there could be alternative transportation along the Front Range in about a decade. It's the same group that's tasked with working to preserve Amtrak's Southwest Chief long distance passenger rail line that travels through southern Colorado.
Colorado Springs City Council President Pro Tem Jill Gaebler heads the commission. She spoke with 91.5 KRCC's Andrea Chalfin about their work, and in the second part of an interview with Gaebler, we talk about Front Range passenger rail. Gaebler says the commission is looking to hire an Executive Director this month to help move the idea forward.
Gaebler: I'm real excited. I have been frustrated by the legislature because, I mean, we all know we struggle with transportation dollars and CDOT's always telling us how difficult it is to maintain any of our state roads. But to me rail, passenger rail, is the fiscally sustainable solution to our transportation concerns along the Front Range that both parties in the legislature should see that and want to support this type of project, which is scalable. I mean, we know that we will spend a half a billion dollars to create that 17 mile one lane length on I-25 and within the next 5 to 10 years we will be right we're back where we are right now. So what are we going to do to support commerce and to get people to the airport and to do all those things we need to do? And I just think that rail is the obvious answer. This is the fiscally sustainable solution.
91.5 KRCC: There's an estimated $9 billion shortfall in transportation projects statewide, two transportation measures failed at the ballot box this past November… What do you see as the appetite for investing in passenger rail along the Front Range when there's already such a need statewide for transportation funding?
Gaebler: Well, that of course is the big question, and I think it would have to kind of be a separate type of project and not come out of our existing CDOT dollars. That's why, I mean for instance, in Colorado Springs, in this region, we created our Pikes Peak Regional Transportation Authority which is a 1 percent sales tax for the whole region to implement regional road projects and we understand as a region that we're not going to get the money from CDOT. We need to take care of ourselves. I think creating some sort of authority like that throughout the Front Range... I can't expect people in Grand Junction to care about a rail line along I-25. So I think we have to figure out how to pay for that ourselves.
And then the appetite for that—I have a feeling there will be an appetite because I think so many of us are seeing how difficult it is to get between our two cities and it's not safe. So having that kind of option. We're seeing an increase in demand for the Bustang, which is the bus that that goes between here and Denver and into Fort Collins, but that isn't a consistent route either. If there is trouble along the route then it gets delayed along with all the rest of the cars.
Having that consistent mode of transit, knowing you can get from point A to point B in a certain amount of time, catch your flight in Denver, make your football game, get to your meeting. Those sorts of things are really important and I think rail provides that best option—possibly the only option—to do that.
91.5 KRCC: Is there a projected price tag on any of this? Or is it too early to tell?
Gaebler: It is kind of too early and I think it does depend on how we start. Do we start small, do we grow? I see different numbers, and yeah, it's billions of dollars. How we decide to do this will really change what that price tag looks like. So, I'm hesitant to say.
91.5 KRCC: What about a time frame?
Gaebler: Well, if we can get something on the ballot in 2020 and have some sort of plan to start in '21, then maybe, I don't know, mid 20s? I would love to think that we could have something. I really feel like we have to start. We have to really get out there because I don't think that folks, at least especially in Colorado Springs, realize that we are going to have significant transportation issues within the next decade along I-25, and as quickly as we can move this forward the better off our region will be.
This interview was edited for time and clarity purposes.