7:44am

Tue November 5, 2013
Transportation

High Speed Rail Study Shows 150 MPH Possibilities

High speed rail along the Front Range has long been a pipe dream in Colorado. It’s a dream taking a baby step forward though as the Colorado Department of Transportation held the first of four public meetings Monday on a continuing study exploring the feasibility and public support for a line from Fort Collins south via Denver International Airport to Pueblo.

KUNC's Nathan Heffel reports on the Interregional Connectivity Study and the possibility of high speed rail in Colorado on Morning Edition.

High speed rail has been a part of East Coast travel since Amtrak introduced the concept in the U.S. with the Acela express train in 2000. The Acela covers the 456 miles between Boston and Washington D.C. in an average seven hours.

It’s exactly what Colorado transportation planners want to bring to the Front Range. “Fort Collins to Pueblo will take you about an hour and 20 minutes,” said David Krutsinger, CDOT’s transit and rail program manager.

The Interregional Connectivity Study began with hundreds of different possibilities for where a train line could be placed, and built off previous high speed rail studies. After extensive research, the most promising options were narrowed down – starting with the main north to south route.

“So we’re looking at a statewide system, north to south. There’s basically one major option that has emerged as the primary one, from Fort Collins down to Briargate,” Krutsinger said. “Briargate is the north edge of Colorado Springs. And what you see in terms of the options that we’re looking at is how to connect east west to the mountain corridor.”

Just because a feasibility study is nearly complete, doesn’t mean bullet trains will soon be running in Colorado, or that they’ll benefit everyone.

Laura Sickle of Fort Collins liked what she saw at the Monday Windsor meeting. “I-25 is a nightmare,” she said. “So what they’re presenting in this vision going from Fort Collins all the way down to Pueblo it makes sense, it’s going around the bulls-eye of Denver.

But bypassing downtown Denver for DIA is a concern for Joseph Flanigan of Loveland.

A map of the total area studied, including a possible high speed rail project from Golden to the Eagle County Airport along I70 in the mountains.
Credit CDOT/ICS

“I want to have downtown Denver access.” Flanigan said. “It’s our cultural and inspiration hub for the whole of Colorado. I think what they’re trying to do in the parameters they’re given, I think they’re trying to do a good job. But I think maybe they’re missing some of the needs of the individuals.”

A major concern of course is finding the money for the estimated $30 billion price tag the total project, including the mountain corridor, would have.

“The state does not have the money right now,” said Donald Ulrich, lead architect for CH2M Hill, the company charged with completing the study. “That’s why we calculated everything in terms of a sales tax increment and what the typical household could expect to pay on sales tax with these different alternatives.

Tax options on the table include a ½ penny state sales tax – or taxing only the 16 counties impacted by the project. Ulrich says federal funds are also strongly needed for the project to be realized.

“We assumed 50 percent federal funding, some of the other high speed rail grantees received as much as 80 percent funding,” Ulrich said. “But that money went very quickly. And right now most of the sources are pretty lean, particularly for a project of this size.”

Laura Sickle of Fort Collins understands that constructing an entire high speed rail system is costly, with completion possibly decades away. However, she says the alternative isn’t very promising.

“We’re going to have more population growth here,” Sickle said. “And you know, like, if people want to just stay in their houses and not go anywhere, that’s one option. But if we’re going to progress into the next 50 years, we’re going to have to do something!”

Three more public meetings will take place on this stage of the  Interregional Connectivity Study before a final option is selected in early 2014. After that, CDOT will integrate it into a statewide transportation plan, with a 2040 statewide plan being decided by 2016. Meaning it may take another 10 years or more for any part of the high speed rail project to reach a potential construction stage.