Government & Politics  January 26, 2024

Passenger rail board begins debate over when to ask for tax

Members of the board of the Front Range Passenger Rail District board of directors began their first meeting of the year on Friday with this:

“This will be a really important year for this project,” said board president James Souby.

An understatement, perhaps.

The board is charged with developing plans for passenger rail service between Fort Collins and Pueblo. It has already decided on the route, which will follow the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway route north of Denver and the BNSF/Union Pacific line south of Denver.

But 2024 could be a make or break year, because by April the board has to decide whether to ask voters in the district to tax themselves to pay for the development of the line, stations and related investments.

Courtesy Front Range Passenger Rail

To that end, the district is hiring staff and consultants to help, said Andy Karsian, general manager of the district. It also is lobbying the legislature for funding to augment what taxpayers might decide.

While a decision on whether to go to the ballot remains four months away, board members did express caution.

“It may be better to wait and win instead of rush and lose,” said new Colorado Springs board member Lynette Crow-Iverson. She said that November’s ballot this year will be large and have a national focus because of the presidential election and the multiple congressional seats that will be up for voter approval.

Souby noted that “part of the urgency of the question” is that changing political winds could change things after the election.

“Expect it to cost more for the campaign if you do it this year,” said Crow-Iverson, suggesting a $1 million price tag for the campaign.

Size of the ballot wasn’t the only concern. Board members representing the metropolitan area, especially those in the Northwest Corridor of the Regional Transportation District, said their communities have been awaiting results from taxes paid into RTD for FasTracks.

“It’s important to communicate to the public about the ongoing FasTracks tax and how this fits with passenger rail,” said Longmont mayor Joan Peck. 

Karsian said that district staff has been negotiating with RTD to see if passenger rail can tap into existing FasTracks savings accounts for rail service in the Northwest Corridor. 

Debra Johnson, general manager and CEO of RTD, said any decisions on savings accounts would ultimately come down to the RTD board, “recognizing that there are other unfinished segments” of the FasTracks network.

Julie Mullica, representing the Denver Regional Council of Governments on the rail district board, said that board members need to keep in mind that “there are communities opposed to this because they don’t see the benefit. It’s important to bring the communities along quickly” with information about the project.

No decisions were made Friday; Karsian was charged with developing a calendar of work with deadlines so that the board can stay on track.

Members of the board of the Front Range Passenger Rail District board of directors began their first meeting of the year on Friday with this:

“This will be a really important year for this project,” said board president James Souby.

An understatement, perhaps.

The board is charged with developing plans for passenger rail service between Fort Collins and Pueblo. It has already decided on the route, which will follow the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway route north of Denver and the BNSF/Union Pacific line south of Denver.

But 2024 could be a make or break year, because by April the board has to decide…

Ken Amundson
Ken Amundson is managing editor of BizWest. He has lived in Loveland and reported on issues in the region since 1987. Prior to Colorado, he reported and edited for news organizations in Minnesota and Iowa. He's a parent of two and grandparent of four, all of whom make their homes on the Front Range. A news junkie at heart, he also enjoys competitive sports, especially the Rapids.
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