Mystery Train

Squabbles and spin control at RTD's light-rail lovefest.

Since that time, though, the light-rail critics have become increasingly caustic in their appraisals of Klein and what they regard as the "undue influence" of Benker and Anderson, who came to the board in 1993. Boardmember Ron Nichol notes that both Benker and Anderson are state employees--Benker works in the governor's budget office, Anderson is a policy analyst for the Colorado Department of Transportation--and claims they have more time to devote to board committees than other members. "They're much more occupied with RTD than the chairman is," Nichol says. "Anderson seems to spend all his time at RTD; I think he's cheating the taxpayers. Karen Benker is always calling meetings, but she won't talk to any of us."

Anderson dismisses the complaint as unfounded. "There's no conflict of interest whatsoever," he says. "Conflict is a fiduciary issue, and there's nothing like that here. We just have to keep doing our work and get past these disagreements. The citizens want this project."

So does the Clinton administration. After being curiously unmoved by RTD's earlier requests for funding, the Federal Transit Administration abruptly announced an election-year package of full funding agreements in six cities--"a reflection of President Clinton's commitment to our communities throughout the United States," Pena said.

Will that commitment translate into real money? RTD's lobbyists and Anderson say it will, based on the past track record of such agreements. Caldara is more skeptical, viewing last week's soiree as a bit of meaningless political symbolism.

By the time Caldara arrived at the signing ceremony, the refreshment tent was out of lemonade, but there were still plenty of sour grapes to go around. "I've never been to a Clinton rally before," he said. "Until a Republican Congress says it's going to authorize this, it's a paper tiger."

Caldara insists he isn't "anti-rail"--he just wants more affordable transit alternatives. Although mass-transit planning is supposed to avoid competing technologies in the same corridor, he points out that Santa Fe Drive is already being expanded to accommodate high-occupany vehicle lanes.

"Which means," he adds, "if this goes through, drivers will be able to reach out and shake hands with light-rail riders. I just think, at a time when our market share is shrinking, we're hurting our riders by pushing feel-good transit instead of realistic transit."

None of the carping, though, could dim the day for the folks on the podium. "It's time to put aside our differences," Klein declared as the ceremony ended. "It's time to stop studying this [project]. It's time to stop talking and go ahead and build it.

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