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Sen. Hickenlooper’s visit to Pueblo raises anticipation about proposed Front Range Rail project

PUEBLO, Colo. (KRDO) -- A Thursday visit to the Steel City by former Colorado governor and now Colorado U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper is the latest sign that the Front Range Rail project, an idea that's been discussed for decades, appears to be gaining steam.

Hickenlooper toured the downtown Union Depot that would be the primary station for the project to connect a high-speed rail line from Pueblo to Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Local and state leaders view the project as one that would provide a viable transportation option and reduce pollution and traffic congestion along Interstate 25, as well as stimulate growth and development around and south of Pueblo.

Hickenlooper said that cost estimates for the project range between $8 billion and $10 billion, and could be partially funded by $80 billion that will be available in President Joe Biden's American Jobs Plan to help Amtrak expand its services.

The Democratic senator is also seeking support in Washington, D.C. for a federal infrastructure bill.

It's believed that the rail line would have to travel at a speed of at least 75 mph to make it competitive with automobiles, but Hickenlooper said that speeds could be higher if the proper infrastructure is used.

Such a project would likely require a rare amount of intergovernmental cooperation, and Hickenlooper said that he can be helpful in that regard because of his experience as mayor of Denver, governor of Colorado and now as a member of the U.S. Senate.

"This project reminds me of the effort to revitalize downtown Denver when I was mayor there," he said.

Public reaction to the proposed project was generally favorable Thursday. Blane Hook, of Pueblo, and his son, Nathan, of Colorado Springs, paused their bike ride to stop and look at the depot.

"I think that Pueblo would be a great stop because there is so much," Blane said. "The train's right here and the historical district is right here, too. So I think that would be our draw. Traffic on I-25 is bad north of here but not south of here."

Nathan said he'd rather have a short train ride than a 90-minute drive to Denver on the interstate.

"Global warming is such an issue nowadays," he said. "It's probably the biggest threat to the U.S. today. Anything we can do to stop that, I'm all for it."

Rita Fox, an ambassador with the Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce, said that she likes the plan but wants to know more about it.

"I find more people who are for it," she said. "I haven't seen too many who are against it. I don't bring it up too often in conversation. But again, more information would be welcome, I think."

Pueblo County Commissioner Garrison Ortiz said that Hickenlooper's support is vital to the success of the project.

"The cost is so high that we're going to have to depend on federal funding for most of it," he said. "We're going to have $7 million that could be allocated to the project. But it's unclear whether local governments will be required to contribute -- as they did with the I-25 "Gap" project -- and how much. But I think the government will see the work we did to get Amtrak's Southwest Chief route, and the studies and work we've done on the Front Range Rail, and be convinced that this project will work and does deserve funding."

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Scott Harrison

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


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