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Speaker McCluskie, Senate President Fenberg introduce passenger rail bill

March 21, 2024, 5:11 pm
The Winter Park Ski Train in Denver’s Union Station (Wiki Commons).

The offices of state Senate President Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, and House Speaker Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, on Tuesday issued the following press release on a bill to impose rental-car fees to expand passenger rail service in Colorado, including a line from Denver to Craig through Steamboat Springs:

As part of their ongoing work to reduce congestion on our roads, cut emissions and deliver reliable, efficient transportation options in Colorado, Senate President Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, and House Speaker Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, today introduced legislation that aims to leverage millions in federal infrastructure funding to bring passenger rail service to Colorado and expand public transportation options across the state. 

SB24-184, also sponsored by Senator Janice Marchman, D-Loveland, and Representative Andrew Boesenecker, D-Fort Collins, would implement a congestion reduction fee that would be used to offset climate impacts and mitigate the congestion, and wear and tear on Colorado’s roads caused by rental vehicles. Proceeds from the fee would create a sustainable funding source to be used as a matching source for federal investment opportunities for statewide transit and rail, as well as other forms of public transportation.

“For years Coloradans have been waiting for the promise of a fast, efficient passenger rail system that makes it easy, safe, and affordable to travel all across our great state,” Fenberg said. “Now, with the availability of critical federal funds through President Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to deliver on that promise. I am excited to champion this effort that will secure more efficient transit options while cutting emissions, reducing traffic, and connecting communities across Colorado.” 

“We’re capitalizing on the recent historic federal infrastructure investments to build an expanded passenger rail system, creating new transit options for Coloradans from the Front Range to the Western Slope,” McCluskie said. “Mountain rail will reduce traffic, expand housing options for workers and make it easier for Coloradans to get where they need to go while helping us meet our climate goals. This legislation will boost our economies, create jobs and move us forward by making passenger rail a reality for communities across our state.”

“Expanding our transit system and making it easier for folks in my district to travel across our great state is a key priority of mine at the Capitol,”said Marchman. “Expanding passenger rail service will connect communities like mine with the rest of the state and save people both time and money on their commutes, all while emitting less pollution and reducing traffic. I am incredibly excited about this opportunity to expand our transit options so that more Coloradans can get where they need to go safely and efficiently.” 

“Building a Front Range passenger rail system has been a dream of many Coloradans for decades, and it’s exciting that we have the opportunity to connect Coloradans from Fort Collins all the way down to Pueblo,” said Boesenecker. “This legislation would give Coloradans more travel options besides our over-crowded highways, reducing traffic, saving money and reducing our carbon emissions. We’re one step closer to creating a passenger rail system that Coloradans have been asking for.”

The bill would encourage RTD, Front Range Passenger Rail, and the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) to coordinate efforts to secure the funding needed to establish passenger rail service from Denver to Fort Collins, while exploring near-term opportunities to fund regional transit and rail projects along the Front Range and up to the mountains. 

It would also direct the Colorado Transportation Investment Office to use three studies in the near term to fund regionally important transit and rail services originating from the Front Range Passenger Rail Service Development Plan, the Mountain Corridor Service Development Plan, and the Statewide Connectivity study that aims to build a more comprehensive statewide bus system, building on the successes of Bustang, Snowstang and Pegasus.

Finally, the bill encourages CDOT to consider public-private partnerships and other innovative funding structures throughout the state to fund a full suite of multimodal infrastructure projects, including bus and passenger rail, and would require a new, multimodal strategic capital plan that aligns with CDOT’s ten-year plan, statewide transit plans, greenhouse gas pollution reduction goals, and other greenhouse gas reduction priorities and pollution reduction planning standards. 

Colorado transit advocates and business leaders applauded the legislation:

“Trains and buses give Coloradans more travel options to get around the state, their city and their community,” said Danny Katz, Executive Director of CoPIRG. “More and better transit options allow people to choose to take the bus or train to the places they want to go safely and with less pollution, hassle and costs. I’m glad the Governor and legislative leaders are committed to going big on transit in 2024 from statewide rail to eliminating fares for youth riders to expanding the frequency of local service.”

“We are taking a visionary approach to allow for the reintroduction of passenger rail to our Front Range and mountain communities. With much of the railway infrastructure in place and access to federal funding, the opportunity is now,” said Rob Perlman, Executive Vice President Alterra Mountain Company. “With this nominal fee, Coloradoans and our guests will have access to sustainable transportation to our mountains aboard passenger rail.”

“GreenLatinos supports expanded public transportation to tackle pollution and emissions, prioritizing vulnerable communities reliant on transit. We’re dedicated to mitigating negative impacts, such as noise and air pollution, on those living closest to train routes,” said Ean Thomas Tafoya, GreenLatinos Colorado State Director.

“The vision of FRPR is to unite the entire Front Range with passenger rail, recognizing that we must capitalize on every opportunity to deliver each piece of the system when we can,” said Chris Nevitt, Board Chair of Front Range Passenger Rail District. “We are deeply appreciative of the support and collaboration of the state assembly and the governor’s office to bring creative solutions to the table – to deliver the train to Fort Collins sooner than anyone thought possible, and to lay a stronger foundation for delivering the train to Pueblo and Trinidad as well.”

SB24-184 will be heard in the Senate Transportation & Energy Committee in the coming weeks. Track the bill’s progress HERE.

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