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November 18, 2009 10:11 PM UTC

FasTracks Needs Backup

  • by: Colorado Pols

As the Denver Post reports:

If Denver-area voters do not approve a sales-tax hike and if the federal government fails to contribute $1 billion for the FasTracks public-private partnership, RTD will only be able to build one more rail line – the train to DIA, agency planners told area mayors Tuesday.

RTD planning chief Bill Van Meter outlined the scenario in response to a question from Arvada Mayor Bob Frie, as mayors and RTD staff members discussed options for moving the $7 billion FasTracks project forward.

FasTracks needs an additional $2.3 billion if the Regional Transportation District is to stay on schedule for building its planned total of six new rail lines, three rail extensions to existing lines, and other transit elements by 2017.

So far, the West Corridor light-rail line to Lakewood and Golden is the only FasTracks line under construction…

RTD’s board of directors will decide early next year whether to ask voters next November to back the tax hike or wait until later.

The voter-approved FasTracks plan has been hit with a double whammy in the last few years: first came the huge spike in commodity prices just before the economy imploded–and then there was the implosion, which cratered the sales tax revenue slated to pay for light rail. Metro-area voters are going to have to make a choice to complete the system as originally envisioned, or scale back the project to what reduced resources can pay for–but keep the criticism reality-based.

Don’t tell any of this to the Independence Institute’s Jon Caldara, of course. FasTracks has become Caldara’s favorite example of a “boondoggle” that he would like nothing more than to see abandoned, and the facts outlined above are regularly abused by Caldara and his ‘transportation expert’ Randy O’Toole. Don’t trouble him with talk about commodity prices, and of course tax revenue going down can only be a good thing to Jon Caldara. Caldara also only seems to care about endangered birds when they hit wind power turbines, but that’s for another blog post.


22 thoughts on “FasTracks Needs Backup

  1. what commodities are they talking about ?  How much did they buy ? Do they have to take delivery on all of them ?  Can they renegotiate by adding in future purchases to bring the overall price down ?

    1. From the horse’s ass:


      “When the economy was good, (a FasTracks funding shortage) was because commodity prices were too high. When commodity prices go through the floor, it’s because sales-tax revenue are slow,” [Caldara] said. “It was such a faulty fiscal plan. It’s inexcusable.”

      RTD spokesman Scott Reed called Caldera’s claim ludicrous, adding that FasTracks planners did everything they could at the time to truthfully project the cost and timeframe for building the project.

      “No one accurately predicted the economic meltdown of this year or the massive increase in construction material costs last year,” he said.

      What Caldara doesn’t get is he is RIGHT: the material costs spiked in a bubble, and then the economy crashed. Caldara just seems to think the global economy revolves around Denver’s light rail system – or (this is more likely) he has to say ridiculous things like this to keep getting paid by the car dealers.

      1. The benefits of a real public transportation system linking the entire Metro area, from Ft. Collins to Pueblo, far outweigh whatever problems Caldera is babbling about.

        1. 1.RTD hired inept planners (finacial, ballot, etc…) and thus fell into offering to the electorate a non sustainable plan.

          2.It passed, but RTD failed to collect all the taxes it should have.

          3.DRCOG infighting caused delays.  Granted the folks along the NW line had every right to be very concerned about the replacement of lightrail with RTD heavey rail diesels.

          4.Commodity prices spiked then crashed as the Colorado economy began to crater in the spring of 2007.

          But I agree with redstate too, FasTracks is vital to the future of our economy … especially if your a developer with land near the yet to be developed lightrail lines.

    2. FasTracks was proposed to the public in 2004 based on the reasonable expectation that commodities prices (e.g. steel, copper etc.) would rise about 3% earch year. The reason why this was reasonable was because commodities prices had risen on average about 3% per year from 1993 through 2003.

      The voters approved FasTracks in 2004 but something completely unexpected then happened. Commodity prices rose a staggering 52% in 2005 in one year. That increase toatlly destroyed the cost estimates for the project. Contrary to what the Indpendence Institute spews out, no one lied to the public or intentionally misled the voters about the costs. Commodity prices increased because of the demand for basic commodities in China, India and other countries. RTD has absolutlely no control over the world wide commodities market.

      Because of the increase in commodity prices, RTD immediately told the public it would not be able to build out the project by 2017 as originally scheduled because FastTracks initiative limited the total amount of money RTD could collect through sales taxes for the project.

      On top of that beginning in late 2007 or early 2008, sales tax revenues began to crater due to the deteriorating economy and therefore RTD was collecting a smaller amount each month in sales tax revenues. Again, this slowed the agency’s ability to begin building the project and stretched out the time line for completion.

      To the RTD Board’s great credit they began looking for the best possible alternaitve solutions. Public-Private Partnerships (“P3”) was one of the best. In other words, private companies build the light rail line and then own and operate the line for 35 or 40 years and during that time the company recovers its capital investment plus a profit. That frees the sales tax money that RTD has available to build out other light-rail lines. It substitutes private funding for public funding.

      In the FasTracks case, the Independence Institute’s assertions that RTD misled the public is a lie and they know it.

    1. Assuming I can figure out parking (I’d have to commute from outside the RTD region, which means they’d gouge me for parking fees – seems they’d be happy to get riders willing to go from one end of one line to the other end of another and screw the parking fees, or at least offer me some kind of discount pass for parking.)

      1. but I think you all are being too easy on RTD.  To be fair, I am not just going to pull a Caldera and shout “boondoggle” because that is too easy.

        HOWEVER, maybe some sort of oversight board or audit with businessmen and businesswomen (W/O conflicts of interest) need to look at the big picture and see if taxpayer’s money is really being spent effectively.  What decisions were good and what ones were not. Maybe new blood is needed.  

        Someone may say the RTD board is there to do that, but I don’t think it’s being done.

        Budget for and ask for your worst case scenario.  Don’t try to pass off the best case just to get the project off the ground, because then you have to go back and ask for more.  Will the money spent for lobbying and public relations in support of the second ballot initiative be taken out of the overall project funds ? That would really piss me off.

        1. But that’s not what Caldera’s rhetoric is calling for. He’s shooting past more efficient spending, or outside-the-box thinking to try to get the project completed. Nothing would please him more than seeing his former employers look like idiots by not completing FasTracks at all.

          1. he’s in the bag for Dealin’ Doug, Stevenson, or whoever the fuck breads his butter.  FasTracks gets shut down and Jon is a hero to his shitbag auto dealers and the rest of us suffer.  Progress averted on behalf of a well-connected few; job well done.

            On the other hand, I tend to think FasTracks can be the greatest strategic asset to the metro area and Colorado in decades, even eclipsing what was done with DIA (and I bet you remember all the fights and naysaying about DIA, the baggage system, etc).  FasTracks affects quality of life, tourism, the environment, economic development – so many things in such a positive way.  It could be an absolutely great thing, and I hope it will.

            I want it to work, but I think RTD is squandering the good faith and trust exhibited by us taxpayers, which makes it all too easy for a-holes like Caldera to swoop in.  

            1. Caldara pretends to be a populist hero, fighting hard for the people of Colorado, but really he’s beholden to the people who fund the Independence Institute. I’m not intimately familiar with their donors (I don’t think they make the list public) but I would bet dollars to donuts that the Colorado Automobile Association is up there.

              Their entire ideology is based in convincing normal people to support public policy that helps big business a hell of a lot more than it helps the average Coloradan.

              1. “Their entire ideology is based in convincing normal people to support public policy that helps big business a hell of a lot more than it helps the average Coloradan”

                See: Teabagging against healthcare reform – no kidding.

                1. Caldera filed their 990 in May ’09 – showed $2.6 million in assets, with about $1.3 in expense for FY ’08.  Their office space is donated (used to be by Stevenson, but don’t know now).  Public info shows past donors as Leprino, Coors, Stevenson, albeit nothing visible during ’08.  II used to get a ton of out-of-state money.

        2. Unreasonably skyrocketing prices for goods, followed by the worst recession since the Great Depression are probably not on anyone’s normal budgetary projection tables.

          Check with private industry to see if they properly predicted (or even planned for) the last few years – I’m pretty sure the answer is ‘no’, and that they’re by-and-large reaching far into their reserves to compensate for their “lack” of planning.

          1. but the key is what did they do to shift gears once the shit hit the fan ?  

            I just don’t get the connection about well rising commodity prices + declining revenues = 2.2 billion over budget.

            I would really like to see the itemized expenditures vs. the sales tax revenue receipts, plus the existing contracts that they claim put them in the hole.  I really would. I bet it would tell a pretty vivid story.

  2. resident let me just say that I am thrilled that we have a light rail system in place so that folks in Littleton can get to the DCPA and the Broncos games on my tax money.

    The earler post by Automaticftp hit the nail on the head…the DIA corridor should have been built first.

  3. a tax increase to build out the entire system. I am afraid, however, that folks who already “got theirs” (south and west metro) will not have much of an incentive to vote yes.

    The only equitable answer is to ensure the entire line, including the North and Northwest lines are completed by 2017.

    Those of us in the north area who campaigned for FasTracks and who endorsed the plan early have lost alot of political capital because of the perception of most folks up north that were getting screwed.

    There has been a trend of municipalities and the different areas of the metro area working together on behalf of all of our citizens. This issue, however, has the potential to divide us in a very negative, long lasting way. Let’s work together and get it done.

  4. ok, this will probably get me shot. And there may be some major problem I’m not thinking of. But what if…

    Right now unemployment is high and commodity prices are low. Why not go build all of it immediately – but set pay for everyone on the project at say 60% of what it usually is.

    Those that would be working regardless take a substantial pay cut. But in return we have a ton of people working that otherwise would not be working. And the lower pay would go to benefit everyone in the metro area.

    1. Don’t know if FasTracks itself is coming in with lower bids now, but if it isn’t then someone needs to ask why – most of the stimulus contracts have been coming in significantly under previous bids (60% is, in fact, a number I’ve seen on some of them…).

      But the fact is, they used the money that was supposed to stretch through at least 2011 on over-inflated construction materials.  And now, when they could take advantage of lower pay rates, they have no money to make the investment.

      If they could get a bond to accelerate the construction, they could get a great bargain on labor and materials right now.  Otherwise, they have to live like everyone else in Colorado government: in budget.

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