The Times-Call editors were absolutely correct that if the Regional Transportation District uses bus, even bus rapid transit, rather than rail for the Northwest Corridor of FasTracks, it will be Colorado's biggest bait-and-switch scam in history.
Our community deserves better, and I feel personally betrayed for two reasons; one, I was a loyal and vocal proponent of the FasTracks plan, encouraging Longmont taxpayers to support the initiative; and two, I ride the bus for two hours every day commuting to Denver and back (which last snowfall became three hours). Recent writers who say that there are no substantial differences between bus and rail obviously don't ride bus or rail very often.
Allow me to refresh everyone's memory. Longmont officials and voters supported this additional RTD tax because of two major promises and the differences between bus and rail.
The first promise was displayed prominently on the map used during the ballot initiative. Commuter rail, using existing rail lines and right of way, was shown from Longmont through Boulder to Denver's Union Station. Even though not the most direct route for Longmont commuters, this appealed to just about everyone because it reduced any new environmental impacts as well as provided other obvious benefits of rail over bus:
Rail lines are fixed, so economic development at major stations is much more likely to occur.
Buses are severely affected by weather and traffic.
Bus routes are easily changed, reduced and eliminated.
The second major promise was perhaps less obvious to any but those closely involved in the politics of FasTracks planning but key to the current discussion. Every metro-area mayor signed in support (I believe the only time that there has been unanimity on any ballot initiative), because of the promise that the buildout of the system would be relatively simultaneous. This was critical because voters north of Denver would not and should not have supported another plan that allowed improvements north to have less priority than elsewhere.
Voters north of Denver have paid hundreds of millions to help build out T-Rex light rail and other improvements benefiting primarily Denver and communities south. RTD continues to channel available funds to build out projects -- none north of Denver. What have we received for years of paying into this great regional collaboration? A bus depot building in south Longmont that has stood empty for years and disproportionately increasing fares with decreasing service. To add insult to injury, the much-vaunted plan for a transit station at First and Main features a sea of surface parking spaces rather than offering a parking structure similar to those built elsewhere and ideas for creative transit-oriented development.
Some writers also have proposed that we should essentially just say, "Oh, well. RTD goofed, but we might as well just live with it." Imagine contracting with a private company to build you a product. You assume that the company has the wherewithal to deliver, especially because it has a monopoly on the product, a dedicated revenue stream and hundreds of thousands to spend on consultants for the product. Imagine further that the company came to you years later, after taking your money in down payment the entire time, to say not only can it not deliver on time, but really, it can't give you the product it sold you at all, and you should be happy with something much less desirable and effective. We would never allow a company to get away with this; the message would be clear: If you can't deliver, return my money -- all of it.
Thank you to the City Council members who delivered a strong message to RTD. If RTD cannot deliver as promised, a mediocre replacement should not be tolerated. RTD's only ethical solution is to build the system as promised or make good on the taxes invested by returning them, in full, to the communities that will not see the promised buildout within a reasonable timeframe. It is now clear that our community can put the money to much better use than the RTD.
Julia Pirnack served as mayor of Longmont from 2001 to 2007.