Senate President Leroy Garcia hailed the introduction of bipartisan legislation to create, manage and maintain a passenger rail line from the New Mexico to Wyoming border with stops up the Front Range.
“Front Range rail has been a top priority of mine since coming to the legislature,” the Democrat from Pueblo said in a statement. “For too long Colorado’s transportation system has been underfunded and overburdened, leading to crumbling roads and horrible traffic congestion."
The state's move joins promising recent news from Amtrak, which listed service from Pueblo to Cheyenne, in its 15-year plan. That announcement coincides with the Biden administration's goal of investing $2 trillion in infrastructure by raising the corporate income tax. The package is expected to include $80 billion for rail projects, such as Colorado's.
Amtrak hopes to add more than 30 new routes nationally if the federal support comes through.
"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," Garcia said. "High-speed trains connecting our state from top to bottom will allow for more residential movement and increased economic growth. I am overwhelmingly proud to finally see this project get off the ground and in turn shape the future of our state for generations to come.”
Garcia is sponsoring Senate Bill 238 with Republican Sens. Kevin Priola from Adams County and Cleave Simpson of Alamosa. Democratic Sens. Rachel Zenzinger of Arvada, Daneya Esgar of Pueblo and Matt Gray of Broomfield are sponsors of the bill as well.
“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," Simpson said in a statement Friday evening. "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."
The proposed Front Range Passenger Rail District would include appointees from each of transportation planning organizations along the line, the governor's office, the state highway department, along with non-voting appointees from Denver's Regional Transportation District and potentially representatives of BNSF Railway, Union Pacific Railroad, Amtrak, and communities in Wyoming and New Mexico.
The bill calls for one board member to represent organized labor and another to represent a conservation organization that works on transit-oriented land use planning.
The appointees would be in place by April 1 next year, and hold their first meeting before May 15, 2022.
The legislation specifies the district will be in charge of "planning, designing, developing, financing, constructing, operating, and maintaining" the Front Range rail system.
“The population in Colorado is estimated to grow by 2 million by 2030,” Trinidad Mayor Phil Rico said in a statement. “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.”
Garcia's office noted in a press release Friday: "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 overuse and subsequent deterioration of Colorado’s roads and bridges have also led to depressed economic growth.