Offering a sweetener to rail

Bill Christopher, Crosscurrents
Posted

Last week I wrote about the positive news pertaining to RTD moving sooner than later on requests for proposals from the private sector to construct at least a portion of the North Metro commuter rail line.

The possibility gets even more exciting as more information is discovered or pried loose. First, the Regional Transportation District will seek proposals on as much of this electric commuter rail line as the private sector has an appetite to do.

In other words, the whole line is up for consideration to be built from Union Station to the end of the line at 162nd Avenue. This will literally be a case of what the market will bear. Secondly, there is a possible incentive being sent to RTD by Adams County and two of the three affected cities along this rail corridor (Northglenn and Thornton) pertaining to collaboration and potentially additional funds.

An offer to build the whole project

Adams County Commissioner Erik Hansen is taking the bull by the horns in promoting some proactive measures above RTD’s required 2.5 percent local agency contribution, which may help any proposal be successful. The three local governments state that they are interested in working together on a scope of work for an RFP to build the North Metro line to its end point by 2020. They state that if such a proposal would materialize, the three entities would 1) waive certain fees, 2) be agreeable to phasing certain elements of the plan and 3) provide additional local agency contribution.

Such collaborative provisions have merit in making the whole transit line more of a possibility. And it should be noted that this Adams County group provided this offer without direct solicitation from RTD (well, sort of in that RTD does list additional funds as something they would consider in their Risk Allocation matrix). Nevertheless, it is a gesture of cooperation and wanting to see the whole line done by 2020.

That would be a real accomplishment for Adams County and the affected cities!

Using county sales tax funds

However, it remains to be seen how RTD will respond to the proposal.

RTD has not always welcomed help on drafting the terms of a Request for Proposals. But maybe on this one the RTD powers that be might have a favorable perspective.

Remember the county and two cities are offering funds above the required 2.5 percent local match per the original FasTracks provisions. From what I have gathered, the funds in questions could come from the Adams County sales tax which is earmarked for transportation improvements.

The amount could be many millions of dollars.

This would mean that Adams County and the two cities would give up millions of dollars in tax revenue that could have been used to maintain, repair and build new streets, etc.

Political considerations

While the offer certainly has merit to help solidify the North Metro commuter rail project and perhaps extend the length of improvements, the question becomes — is it necessary to forego millions of dollars of local street and road work? And is it worth having the taxpayers of Adams County and the two cities pay twice for these rail improvements?

Remember, RTD can still apply for federal funds beyond the initial segment of this line.

Bill Christopher is former city manager of Westminster and used to represent District J on the RTD board of directors.

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