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El Paso County Commissioners oppose Front Range Passenger Rail proposal

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Less than a week after Colorado U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper announced his support for the plan to build a high-speed passenger rail line from Pueblo to Cheyenne, Wyoming, El Paso County's Board of Commissioners voiced their opposition.

During a legislative update at Tuesday's regular meeting, four of the five commissioners explained why they're against a proposed bill in the state senate that would create a taxing district and levy a one-cent sales tax to help fund the project.

"I like the concept of it," said Commissioner Holly Williams. "But this doesn’t have any provision in it, that the money stays in El Paso County. A one-cent sales tax generates a lot of money. I'm concerned that the money we generate could be used to pay for the light rail connection from Denver to Boulder that was never completed."

Williams said that she'd rather see money devoted to much-needed local road improvements.

Board Chairman Stan VanderWerf said that the proposed bill doesn't address the first and last mile of the project.

"When you deal with public transportation investments like this, you still have to get someone from their house to the rail, then you have to get from the rail to your place of employment, wherever that destination may be," he said. "The I-25 Gap project includes a benefit for drivers who carpool and use express lanes to ease traffic congestion. That is something we should work on, and work on extensively, before we do a multi-billion-dollar front range rail investment that will likely have low ridership."

Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez said that he has experience as a regular user of a similar rail system in metro Los Angeles.

"It will always be subsidized, it will be an ongoing tax, and as we know, these things always end up being about twice the cost of whatever the government says it’s going to cost,” he said.

Commissioner Carrie Geitner shared her experience of using high-speed rail in Europe and said that she could see some of her concerns abut that system repeated here.

“There’s kind of a component that’s left out here," she said. "It might work for college kids, it might work for commuters, but it doesn’t work for everyone. And so you’re asking for moms like myself who did not want to use that, to pay for others to ride on that.”

Chris Wiseman, a member of the Front Range Rail Commission who's also a Pueblo County Commissioner, responded to the remarks by El Paso County commissioners.

"We have a library district that people pay taxes for, even though not everyone uses the library," he said. "That's because it's needed and it's for the greater good of the community. I'm hoping that we can convince El Paso County of the need for the rail project. It'll be harder to do without their support, but it's still a good plan. And even if the legislature passes the bill, we still have a long way to go before the project becomes a reality."

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Scott Harrison

Scott is a reporter for KRDO. Learn more about Scott here.


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