DENVER — For many Coloradans sick of sitting in traffic, building a new Front Range rail line seems like a dream solution. Now might be its best chance yet to make it beyond the planning stages.
After President Biden unveiled his $2 trillion infrastructure proposal late last month, which set aside $80 billion for Amtrak, the company released this map showing the work they would do in Colorado.
Their vision of a rail line would connect Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Denver, Fort Collins and Cheyenne. The company also released a package detailing their proposed expansion in Colorado last week.
"Not only will the traveling public benefit from these services but overall it would create jobs, improve quality of life, reduce carbon emissions and generate economic growth," said CEO of Amtrak, Bill Flynn.
Flynn said during a meeting Monday that the company hopes to push forward with the plan even if it does not get $80 billion in the federal infrastructure package, but said passage of the president's proposal would help speed up the process.
For, Janet Kipina, who uses RTD's light rails to get to work, the prospect of a new line could change her life, she says.
"If I could actually live in Colorado Springs but work in Denver, that would be the best of both worlds. So that way you’re getting out of the city and enjoying the slower pace of life when you’re at home, but then still having the benefits of jobs in Denver that pay more," said Kipina.
Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar says having Pueblo be part of the rail line would provide an economic boost and a way to pass something on to future generations.
"Look what our ancestors left us in terms of infrastructure. I think we owe an obligation to future generations – to our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren – to try to match what our ancestors left for us," said Gradisar.
There are still many unknowns with the project. If Amtrak secures funding through the infrastructure bill, which is still in its planning stages, the rail could be finished within 15 years.
"Lets face it, Colorado is a phenomenal place to live. I came out here for a vacation 30 years ago and never left," said Kipina.
The idea of a Front Range Rail system has been in the works, and much discussed, for years.
A commission has studied the project in recent years, and officials discussed it in the leadup to the 2018 Colorado statewide election, with Jared Polis saying at the time he supported a high-speed rail line between Fort Collins and Pueblo.
A survey of people living along the Front Range done in 2019 by Magellan Strategies found more than 80% of respondents in favor of a rail line from at least Fort Collins to Pueblo. But support fell drastically when respondents were asked if they supported a sales tax increase to fund the project, though more than 60% of people said they would support such a tax increase as well as the project.
But there is also action currently at the state Capitol, where lawmakers are also discussing how a Front Range passenger rail could be paid for aside from the possible funding to Amtrak. The Colorado Sun first reported on the bill’s introduction and its details on Friday.
The bill (SB21-238) sponsored by Front Range lawmakers would, if passed, would create a new Front Range passenger rail district from New Mexico to Wyoming that would be overseen by a board that would be able to ask voters within the special district to raise sales taxes to pay for a Front Range passenger rail.
The bill has yet to have its first committee meeting set, but it will first be heard in the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee. It already has support from senators of both parties and 17 senators in total out of 35 total.