Rail Roaded

Page 7 of 8

"With rail, you double the cars and you add a double deck. You have the capacity to grow. And that's what we have to do. What we put in place today will last 100 years."

The federal government has begun to think about the country's transportation needs for the next 100 years. In fact, lawmakers are for the first time framing the dialogue of transportation appropriations in the context of an interstate system, including road, air and rail. Briggs doesn't see why Colorado couldn't be the state to lead the country in developing a high-speed rail system that defines high speeds as up to 124 miles per hour. Already, Colorado has a request pending with the U.S. Secretary of Transportation that the Rocky Mountain Corridor -- from Casper to Albuquerque along I-25 and DIA to Dotsero along I-70 -- be chosen for the nation's eleventh and last High Speed Rail Corridor. Such a designation would give Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico access to federal rail dollars. In addition, the Wyoming legislature has pledged $260,000 to the RMRA's feasibility study, and Briggs has raised funds exceeding the $311,000 local match.

Today's political climate could be right for rail to happen. Ritter campaigned on a commitment to a multi-modal transportation system and a promise to convene a blue ribbon panel that would examine funding mechanisms for transportation and the way in which those projects are prioritized.

Ritter's Colorado Transportation Finance and Implementation Panel will make its recommendations by the end of 2007, and the governor says he hopes the RMRA will give input to the group. "What we don't want to do is step on each other here," he says. "We don't want the blue ribbon commission that I'm putting together to have one sense about how we move people up and down the I-70 corridor and another group who wants to put a competing alternative on the table. We really need to, I think, ultimately build the kind of consensus and the kind of coalition that we built with Referendum C."

The state has and will continue to see a decline in highway user trust-fund dollars, as well as gas tax receipts. CDOT, by its own projections, will be underfunded by $50 billion over the next 25 years just trying to maintain existing infrastructure if the state continues to rely on those revenue sources. Meanwhile, in the metro area, Ritter says the state has spent over $100 million on environmental impact statements in the last five years.

"So we're not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater," Ritter explains. "It's important for us to look at things like rail corridors, but at the same time, we don't want that to be the only consideration. The conversation has to be about how we fund transportation infrastructure statewide and all parts of transportation infrastructure, including highways, regional airports, freight rail, commuter rail."

It's 2030. You pack up and head to Union Station. You have an annual train pass for your family, and the money you save on gas has allowed you more weekend trips and longer vacations in the mountains, as well as Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming. You have nothing to lug with you today, though, because this isn't a vacation. You're just going to ski for the day, and you rent a locker for your family's skis and boards at your favorite resort. And even if you feel like checking out a different mountain today, the buses move fast and comfortably between resorts and towns and the train station. It's not like you won't have time to explore. You'll be in Frisco in 45 minutes.

You step onto the platform comfortably -- it's at ground level -- and plop into a window seat with plenty of room to stretch your legs. You can order a drink if you feel like it, or a sandwich. There's a restroom in your car that's downright massive compared to airplane bathrooms.

You've made this trip dozens of times, but it still manages to take your breath away every time you see blue sky meet white peaks. You're gliding quickly and quietly over the highway. You look down at the cars and think back to all those long days in traffic, always rushing to beat the early rush or the late rush and still ending up smack in the middle of a twenty-mile backup. You remember all those weekends you stayed home instead of going hiking or biking or rafting because you were so frustrated that the winter traffic jams had bled into your spring, summer and fall. You remember driving with your nose practically pressed to the glass because you couldn't see past the snow. The fear. The anxiety.

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Jessica Centers