Monorail splits state House race
October 3, 2008
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado “-The challenger for Eagle and Summit counties’ seat in the Colorado House has promised to bring monorail to the mountains, but his opponent and even transportation advocates express skepticism.
Ali Hasan, a Beaver Creek Republican, said his most immediate concern for the district is bringing a high-speed rail to ease crowding on Interstate 70 through the mountains.
“We need to build a monorail,” said Hasan, who promises on his Website to introduce legislation for a high-speed railway from Denver International Airport to Gypsum, a distance of about 162 miles.
But state Rep. Christine Scanlan, of Summit County, argues that it’s not easy to fulfill such promises, citing the cost of high-speed rail ” which has been estimated to be at least $5 billion ” and the logistical barriers.
“Important work has to be undertaken before any state proposal,” she said earlier this month. “You can’t just come from House District 56 and say, ‘We’re going to make this happen.’ The entire state would have to buy into it.”
She said plans for a monorail project should not be rushed, and that technology to power the trains in high elevations and up steep grades is unproven. Scanlan also said that such a project would be “at a tremendous cost to taxpayers.”
Hasan said he would finance his plan mostly through municipal bonds, as well as federal funds and investment from companies with the transportation technology ” without a tax increase to Coloradans.
He suggests that the project could garner $700 million from the federal government and about $3 billion through municipal bonds over a 30-year span, with the Colorado Department of Transportation and the state bearing credit on the bonds.
Up to $2 billion would come from companies offering to assist with investment costs, should their technology be used in the project, Hasan said.
Rocky Mountain Rail Authority chairman Harry Dale said in an e-mail that a number of individuals have contacted him with interest in funding and technology proposals for a transit system. The companies range from Stadler Rail of Switzerland to MegaRail of Fort Worth, Texas, and several others from across the United States.
The Rocky Mountain Rail Authority was created through an intergovernmental agreement among several Colorado communities; it has received grant money from the Colorado Department of Transportation for a yearlong feasability study including both the I-70 and I-25 corridors.
Dale said a train with speeds possibly exceeding 150 mph would bring in higher fares than slower trains, such as Amtrak. He said revenue also could be generated through light-freight delivery, such as foods and beverages, mail and consumer goods.
“There may also be opportunities to allow additional power distribution lines to be included in the rail right-of-way for public and private utility companies that may provide an additional revenue source,” he said in an e-mail.
Hasan said that $200 to $300 season passes could be issued for the monorail, and that the Stadler Fast Light Innovative Regional Train used in Europe likely has the necessary technology to handle the corridor.
But Hasan’s hopes of passing railway-construction legislation may not be feasible in a single two-year House term.
Frisco Town Maager Michael Penny, who serves as the I-70 Coalition chairman and a member of Gov. Bill Ritter’s transportation panel, said a “huge quagmire” of analysis and review is required through the federal government.
“The reality of being able to fast-track projects through a single legislative session is going to be limited by federal environmental laws,” Penny said. “We are years, if not a decade out, before we could even start construction on one of these.”
Further, he said the National Environmental Policy Act process under way only analyzes the segment between Glenwood Springs and C-470, Denver’s beltway. A separate environmental study would be necessary for the distance between C-470 and Denver International Airport.
Scanlan, who was appointed to her seat in January, said local support for a mass-transit system is essential.
“We also owe our community an honest conversation about what a high-speed train would mean economically, socially and to the character of our mountain towns,” she said in an e-mail.
She supports continued collaboration among highway users, businesses and environmental and governmental agencies to develop a feasible solution.
She serves on the I-70 Coalition, which aims to come up with a long-term, workable solution for the corridor, and says she “vehemently fought” two failed bills that would have established tolls along the highway.
“We think that will happen again, so we need to be prepared,” she said.
Scanlan supports both “strategic highway widening” and mass-transit options reached by the Collaborative Effort among 27 entities, including the state and the Federal Highway Administration.
Department of Transportation spokesman Bob Wilson said I-70 traffic through the mountain corridor increases about 3 percent per year. In 2000, about 10.3 million vehicles traveled I-70 in the Summit County area. In 2007, the number was about 11.8 million vehicles.
“You do have times when the highway is at maximum capacity,” he said.
Eastbound traffic on Sunday afternoons is known to get stacked up during summer months; traffic is also heavy on holidays during winter months, hitting maximum capacity in “certain sections,” Wilson said.