An editorial in the Gazette’s Oct. 8 edition bemoaned rail as a mobility option along our Front Range. The Gazette went so far as to quote Ozzy Osborne, “we listen to preachers, we listen to fools.” The Gazette got it wrong.
We know transportation continually ranks among the top issues for Coloradans, which is no surprise. As our population skyrockets, mostly along the Front Range, our investment in our transportation infrastructure has decreased. Our roads are crumbling, congestion is peaking, and there is no foreseeable fix in sight.
Consider the facts from a recent TRIP study: Driving on Colorado roads that are deteriorated, congested and that lack desirable safety features costs Colorado drivers $7.1 billion each year — that equates to $468 per driver in additional vehicle costs. Congestion is also costing us time and productivity, threatening economic growth, and our quality of life. Forecasts show 85% of Colorado’s future population growth will occur along the Front Range, which means congestion will get exponentially worse. This is why our elected leaders need to be working now to plan for growth, economic prosperity, and our future transportation needs.
So what’s the answer?
As a member of our City Council, and chairwoman of the Southwest Chief and Front Range Passenger Rail Commission, citizens tell me they want us to “fix” our transportation system. I’ve learned that fix does not always translate into adding more vehicle lanes, as these lanes are very expensive to build and maintain, and are only short-term fixes to a long-term problem. Those with vision, who also promote fiscal sustainability, support a transportation system that provides travelers with options — options for vehicles, trains, bikes, and pedestrians. In other words, people want choices when it comes to getting from point A to point B.
Rail is not a silver bullet for our transportation woes. However, in combination with an entire transportation system, rail does offer a reliable and easily scalable option for many people, especially those who can’t or don’t want to drive, and many of our younger workforce, who want to live without owning a vehicle. In fact, according to a study by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), “Millennials and Mobility” this generation ranks public transit and biking as much more preferable than owning a car. They want transportation optimized for family and work needs and demand the freedom to choose different options. Many believe these different modes of transportation help reduce their carbon footprint and are better for the environment. The Gazette admits to expressing excitement for a high-speed rail test link as recently as 2017. Although that project was not realized, the idea of rail has only gained in popularity. Polling data conducted just last month asked if people would support a project that would build regularly scheduled train service to major population centers between Fort Collins to Pueblo. A staggering 81% indicated support.
No one mode will solve our transportation woes. Our job as elected officials and members of the Rail Commission is to evaluate and propose a rail option that integrates with our entire network and provides commuters and tourists with a choice in transportation. In the coming months, you will hear more about Front Range Passenger Rail. Please take a minute to learn the facts, provide your input, and help us build a fiscally sustainable and accessible transportation system for the future of Colorado.
Jill Gaebler is a member of the Colorado Springs City Council and represents District 5. She serves as chair of the Southwest Chief and Front Range Passenger Rail Commission.