Colorado Springs residents get look at proposed Front Range rail system

November 20, 2013 Updated: November 21, 2013 at 9:06 am
photo - Don Ulrich, consultant for a Front Range high speed rail project, explains it to local residents at meeting Wednesday night at Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments. (Photo by Garrison Wells)
Don Ulrich, consultant for a Front Range high speed rail project, explains it to local residents at meeting Wednesday night at Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments. (Photo by Garrison Wells) 

Traveling from Colorado Springs to Denver International Airport would take about 55 minutes on a high-speed train burning along at about 220 miles per hour.

The trip to south suburban Denver would take 33 minutes, and getting to Fort Collins would take slightly more than an hour and a half.

No traffic jams. No gasoline. And you get to catch up on your reading.

Colorado Springs residents got a firsthand look Wednesday night at a high-speed rail system from Fort Collins to Pueblo.

About 35 people showed up for the public meeting about the Colorado Department of Transportation Interregional Connectivity Study at the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments' office at 15 S. 7th St.

Among local concerns was the impact a high-speed rail line that included DIA would have on the ailing Colorado Springs Airport.

The impact on the local airport has not been studied yet, said project consultant Don Ulrich, a vice president at CH2M Hill.

But DIA is not likely to disappear from the line.

Connecting to DIA, he said, "is critical."

"We have to have something that excites people and need geographical support politically," Ulrich said.

Also critical are federal funds, he said.

The 18-month study looks at recommendations for high-speed rail technologies and station locations.

Besides the north-south route, the study examines an east-west route from DIA west to C-470 and Interstate 70 and then west along the I-70 Mountain Corridor to Eagle County Regional Airport.

The entire project would be 340 miles long with an estimated annual ridership of about 18 million and a staggering cost about $30 billion.

But there are alternatives that are shorter and less expensive under consideration.

The "Best Performer," or option gaining the most steam, is 132 miles long, would cost about $9.8 billion, with an annual ridership of about 13.6 million. It would roll from Fort Collins south to Briargate in north Colorado Springs at 220 miles per hour with stops in Castle Rock and Monument.

"To me, this is the one that makes sense," Ulrich said. "We could implement this project at about a half-cent sales tax. I think it's really a cool project and I think it's a good deal."

According to the study, 70 to 80 percent of rail ridership would be along the Front Range. All of the options under consideration would make money and about 80 percent of the ridership is between metropolitan areas.

"That works well for us," Ulrich said. "We want to tie the population centers together in the state."

A draft of the plan is still to be finalized and presented to the Transportation Commission.

There will also be additional study, including a look at South I-25 highway needs, said David Krutsinger, transit & rail program manager with CDOT.

"What is the next vision for I-25 between Colorado Springs and downtown Denver?" he asked. "Do you want six lanes, 8 lanes, 10 lanes? If you keep trying to expand the highways there, you start stacking your highways and those have extraordinary costs."

South I-25 also might be looked at for toll lanes, he added.

"The advantage of tolls is if you don't want to pay the toll, you don't have to drive in that lane," Krutsinger said.

The start of construction is pegged at 2020 and opening of rail service in 2026.

Those dates are the most "optimistic" dates, Ulrich said.

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