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For the Automated Guideway Transport Industry                                                                                    August 2003  
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Report touts FasTracks as economic boon

By Jeffrey Leib

RTD's proposed $4.2 billion FasTracks mass-transit expansion plan would create 8,000 construction jobs, inject as much as $380 million annually into the economy and save up to 13,000 acres of land from development, according to a report released Monday by two pro-transit groups in Denver.
"FasTracks will have a significant impact on the economy as soon as voters approve the financing plan," said Rich McClintock, program director of the Livable Communities Support Center, one of two groups that wrote the report. The other was Environment Colorado.

Last week, the Regional Transportation District outlined a revised FasTracks program that calls for construction of at least six new light-rail or commuter-rail lines in metro Denver by 2015.

Those lines would go from central Denver to Lakewood, Arvada, Boulder, north Adams County and Denver International Airport.

A sixth rail line would run in the Interstate 225 corridor from Parker Road to Smith Road near I-70.

The new FasTracks plan cut nearly $1 billion from an earlier $5.1 billion proposal that included longer rail lines, more parking capacity at many rail stations and other improvements to the existing transit system.

Reduced sales-tax receipts forced RTD to cut the scope of FasTracks.

To pay for even the scaled-back transit plan, RTD would have to raise its sales tax in the seven- county metro area from the current 0.6 percent to 1 percent.

The extra 0.4 percent would amount to an additional 4 cents on every $10 purchase.

Voters would have to approve the tax increase. RTD hopes to take the tax hike to voters in November 2004.

If it passes, the tax increase would begin Jan. 1, 2005, and design and construction of new rail lines could begin soon after.

"Build-out of the FasTracks system would go a long way toward limiting sprawl" and traffic congestion in the Denver area, which is expected to gain 1 million residents over the next 22 years, McClintock said.

More transit options, and focused real estate development in transit corridors, will reduce the miles driven by residents and correspondingly reduce pollution generated by autos in the region, said Elena Nunez, transportation advocate for Environment Colorado.

The revised RTD program will stimulate housing, retail and office development at more than 60 new transit stops planned for the FasTracks corridors, Nunez said.

Such "transit-oriented development" should result in as many as 320,000 residents living within one- half mile of RTD transit stations and up to 500,000 working within the same half-mile radius, Nunez added.

Commercial developers most likely will support FasTracks, said Bob Moody, head of legislative affairs for the Colorado chapter of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties, which represents the owners and developers of commercial real estate in the state.

But transportation solutions "can't all be fixed-rail," Moody said. "We've got to build highways in conjunction with fixed-rail lines. We've got to continue to give people choices."