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State Senate President Leroy Garcia, a Pueblo Democrat, on Friday introduced a Front Range high-speed passenger rail bill that has been one of his top priorities since becoming a state lawmaker.
While the bill is aimed squarely at facilitating passenger rail along the state’s populous Front Range from the Wyoming border in the north to Trinidad in the south — where 80% of the state’s population resides — it’s worth noting that it would connect through Garcia’s hometown of Pueblo, which is also the southern terminus of the inactive 220-mile Tennessee Pass Line (TPL) that connects to an active rail line in Dotsero in the western part of Eagle County.
The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has expressed interest in acquiring the TPL if Union Pacific ever makes it available since it’s a priority rail line and the only alternative to the east-west Moffat Tunnel Line out of Denver. And multiple rail companies have been vying for control of the line for both freight and passenger service.
Garcia’s bill prioritizes collaboration and connection with RTD and Amtrak, which currently has two long-distance passenger lines through Colorado (one of which goes through Trinidad and the other through Denver) and the Winter Park Express Ski Train. The Regional Transportation District (RTD) in the Denver metro area operates the city’s bus system and numerous light-rail trains, including service to Denver International Airport.
Garcia’s bill would set up “a Front Range Passenger Rail Board to research, develop, construct, operate, and maintain the rail system and instructs them to work collaboratively with RTD as well as Amtrak to ensure interconnectedness and compatibility with existing services and projects.”
Amtrak recently listed the Front Range corridor as one of 30 new lines it hopes to establish in coming years.
Garcia has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the 3rd U.S. Congressional District in Colorado, which includes Pueblo and the western two-thirds of Eagle County. Here’s the press release on his new Front Range rail bill:
DENVER, CO – Today, Senate President Leroy Garcia introduced his bipartisan legislation to implement one of the most expansive public transportation plans in Colorado history. SB21-238 would lay the groundwork for an interconnected, high-speed passenger rail system spanning from Trinidad to the Wyoming border – allowing residents all along the Front Range to travel more efficiently and effectively.
“Front Range Rail has been a top priority of mine since coming to the legislator,” said President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo. “For too long Colorado’s transportation system has been underfunded and overburdened, leading to crumbling roads and horrible traffic congestion. We need a long-term solution that will address our growing population needs while ensuring people can get to where they need to go safely and efficiently. High-speed trains connecting our state from top to bottom will allow for more residential movement and increased economic growth. I am overwhelming proud to finally see this project get off the ground and in turn shape the future of our state for generations to come.”
This bill is being co-sponsored by a host of legislators from both sides of the aisle including Republican Senators Kevin Priola from Adams County and Cleave Simpson from Alamosa:
“I am excited to co-sponsor legislation creating the Front Range Passenger Rail District,” said Senator Simpson, R-Alamosa. “The creation of the District moves Colorado one step closer to the realization of a safe, efficient and reliable transportation alternative along the Front Range, from Wyoming to New Mexico. The potential operation of new passenger rail service within the District would be a monumental benefit to Colorado generally and to southern Colorado in particular.”
In 2019 polling, over 85% of respondents supported the creation of a “Front Range Passenger Rail Service” with 92% expressing interest in utilizing the system if it were available and 95% believing it would help address transportation needs and traffic congestion along the Front Range.
For decades Colorado’s transportation infrastructure has been notably underfunded, an issue that has only intensified with the massive population increase over recent years. Some experts believe that the over-used and subsequent deterioration of Colorado’s roads and bridges have also led to depressed economic growth.
“The population in Colorado is estimated to grow by 2 million by 2030,” said supporter of the bill and Trinidad Mayor Phil Rico. “The majority of new residents will settle along the front range – severely impacting our roads even further. In order to move people efficiently on a daily basis along the Front Range from Fort Collins to Trinidad, we need another mode of transportation that will reduce emissions, help to meet the Governor’s climate action goals and provide a safe means of transportation. Passenger rail can be a solution to this dilemma that we are facing and allow Colorado to plan for our future transportation needs.”
The bill proposes creating a Front Range Passenger Rail Board to research, develop, construct, operate, and maintain the rail system and instructs them to work collaboratively with RTD as well as Amtrak to ensure interconnectedness and compatibility with existing services and projects. SB21-238 also outlines different modes of funding including sales and use tax increases for rail districts (subject to voter approval) and federal investment.
The bill has been assigned to the Senate Transporation & Energy Committee. Track the progress of the bill here.