Back on Track: A Delicate Balance in District I
In two weeks, the Regional Transportation District will welcome eight new members to its Board of Directors. Seven will be elected by voters within each district but the eighth seat—District I—will be chosen by the Boulder County Board of County Commissioners.
District I consists of the eastern part of Boulder County, which includes most of the City of Longmont, the City of Lafayette, the Town of Erie, the City/County of Broomfield, and parts of unincorporated Adams and Weld Counties. No candidates submitted enough signatures to make the ballot for this district, leaving the seat open to appointment. State law requires the county with the highest number of eligible electors within the district fill a vacancy by appointment.
RTD asked that the Boulder County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) appoint a member to the vacant seat on or before Nov. 3 so the newly appointed board director can participate in the same on-boarding and swearing-in activities as the other newly elected representatives. The current director of District I, Judy Lubow, has served the term limit of eight years which will end on Dec. 31.
The Boulder County Commissioners received a total of nine letters of interest from applicants but one applicant withdrew their name prior to the interviews, leaving eight applicants to be considered. The commissioners selected the same five questions to be used for eight interviews and plan to make their choice for the appointment during a public business meeting on Oct. 27.
Candidate Austin Ward, who originally ran for the position but was unable to gather enough valid signatures to get on the ballot, believes RTD needs to listen to transit riders and residents more for the board to be successful. “Using public input far more than we currently do, I think will help achieve the goal of creating services that not only support those who are transit dependent but will also give an option to those who may not want to drive or who currently drive but it will become an option for them,” Ward stated in his interview with county commissioners.
Voters in District I have long awaited the addition of their own rail line, which was a part of the plans for the FasTracks program which voters passed in 2004. With the passing of this program, several promises were made to increase rapid transit to and from Boulder County. When the economy crashed several years later, sales tax revenues plummeted and the cost of raw materials increased, making the cost of the project much more than initially expected.
RTD had planned to purchase the rail line from Denver to Longmont from BNSF, who currently owns the rail line, to build the B line. In 2004, they estimated the cost would be $66 million. However, in 2011, the Denver Post reported that BNSF was asking for $535 million, pushing the total cost of the B Line from $461 million to more than $1.5 billion.
B Line future planned extension. Photo courtesy of https://www.rtd-denver.com/fastracks/b-line
In 2012, RTD created a savings account by diverting money that was supposed to go to increased bus service—that account now holds about $120 million. Recently, the board debated using that money to help complete the B Line. However, using the money from this account would still leave RDT short billions of dollars to complete the project for a line that estimates daily ridership to be at only 4,100.
Some—including Colorado Governor Jared Polis—argue that RTD needs to fulfill the promise made to Boulder County residents in 2004, who have paid $243 million in FasTracks taxes between 2005 and 2019. Others argue that there are districts and projects that have a more urgent need for the money. “I’m not interested in what we’re committed to building—a $1.5 billion train—I’m interested in giving people transportation today,” current board member Kate Williams told CPR. “People who need to get to work. People who need to get to the doctor.” The latest financial forecast puts the completion of the B Line on the timeline for thirty years from now in 2050.
Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic slashing daily ridership and deepening RTD’s financial crisis, many are questioning if the plans to build out the B Line are even worth it. According to a study commissioned by RTD in 2014, the B Line would reduce vehicle miles by 63,485 miles compared to the 100 million miles driven daily in the region. There are currently existing express buses that run from Boulder to Denver and Longmont to Denver that have high ridership. The study found those buses carry passengers to Denver’s Union Station faster than the B Line would.
David Beacom, candidate for District I, argues that the North corridor is where RTD should focus its attention. “I would like to see the FasTracks get completed and get the rail service up to the NorthWest Corridor,” Beacom explained in his interview. “We need this transportation in the North once COVID has passed because a lot of the development now in Colorado is on the North side.” Others who support the continuation of the B Line into Longmont argue that a rail line provides more economic development around stations and that a train is more reliable in winter weather and variable traffic conditions.
With interviews completed and an online comment forum opened for members of the public to provide their input on candidates, the only thing left is for commissioners to deliberate and choose the next board member for District I. Whoever they choose will have a tough fight ahead in order to hold RTD accountable on fulfilling their commitments made to District I residents. They will need to push back against those who believe that the expansion of a rail, which would cost billions, is a waste of RTD’s resources when there are already existing bus lines that provide rapid transit for residents to and from Denver. With the impacts of the COVID pandemic possibly getting worse with the winter months, District I’s new board member will need to determine if their priority lies within their district’s needs or with the needs of those who are transit dependent district-wide.
You can find the full list of people who have interviewed for the District I board member position, as well as links to their interviews, here:
- Kris Vaswig
- David Beacom
- TJ Cole
- Austin Ward
- Jonathan Singer
- Danielle Holmes
- Erik Davidson
- Bo Shaffer
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