By Milan Karspeck
Former Mayor of Berthoud
The future of public transportation between northern Colorado and Denver is at a critical juncture and urgently needs your attention. Before December 30, there is one last chance to be heard on the draft version of the North I-25 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) considering two options for transportation. Send your comments to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) at the North I-25 Project Office, phone: (970) 352-5455, Web site: www.cdot.info/NI25EIS/, or mail: CDOT Engineering Office, 2207 E. Highway 402, Loveland, CO 80537. The selection of the preferred transportation alternative will be done in January and February of 2009 as the EIS is finalized.
I strongly support option A, which includes I-25 lane additions, interchange rebuilds and commuter rail along the Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail corridor. This rail line will connect the centers of our communities, allowing people to conveniently visit family or friends, conduct business or dine and shop in other areas by taking a train from town to town. On the other hand, option B will use Bus Rapid Transit to connect park-and-rides along I-25. The difference between these options will have a dramatic impact on the future success of transit and the growth patterns in the region.
I’ve learned that a critical factor for the success of a public transit system is the number of people that live close to the transit stations. This clearly favors option A, which includes a rail station in or near the traditional downtown areas of Fort Collins, Loveland, Berthoud and Longmont as well as at other strategic locations such as CSU. The Bus Rapid Transit in option B would be much less convenient for these purposes since it involves a 5+ mile trip to catch a bus at I-25, and basically just facilitates public commutes along the interstate highway.
Option A saves taxpayer money by utilizing the existing rail corridor between Fort Collins and Longmont to reduce right-of-way acquisition costs. The rail line would be engineered to support higher speeds where that is appropriate. It would also be double-tracked, allowing freight and passenger trains to share the line more easily.
The rail service will use very short trains that won’t tie up the railroad crossings for long periods of time. These are called Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) trains that consist of a high-efficiency diesel/passenger combo unit with one or two optional passenger cars, all manufactured in Fort Lupton.
Option A supports vibrant downtowns with people travelling on foot or bicycle past shops on their way to and from the transit stations. (Each transit station also includes adequate parking for passengers arriving by car.) Option A encourages transit-oriented development near the rail stations, further adding to commerce in the downtown areas. This in turn opens up the possibility of public/private partnerships for enhancing the rail stations and reducing the public cost for station construction. All of these benefits are much less likely to occur around Bus Rapid Transit park-and-ride stations that are miles from the population centers.
There are many things to do during the holiday season, but sending a comment to CDOT by December 30 is an important item that belongs on our lists. Think of the time doing this as a gift to your children and grandchildren—helping to lay the plans for rail service that will connect our downtowns once again.