Monday, December 31, 2007

Time For A Beltway Around The Springs

Seeing that COSMIX, the $150 million project to expand I25 through Colorado Springs, is about to finish I found myself wondering why Colorado Springs doesn't have have a freeway forming a ring around it. Surely this isn't a new idea on my part. Sure enough with a few Google searches it was apparent this has been talked about for decades with some of the most recent talk being The Springs Toll Road Partnership.

The Springs Toll Road Partnership plans to build a toll road in Colorado Springs, Colo., that is similar to Denver's E-470 toll road. New roads will comprise 80 percent of the new tollway, with existing roadways accounting for the remainder. The Springs Toll Road Partnership emphasizes that covering the project's $575 million construction price will not require passing costs on to taxpayers or seizing private land. A toll price for the road, which could be ready by 2012, has not been set, but the toll will reportedly only apply to newly constructed roadways. Proponents of the plan claim that the toll road would eliminate 15 minutes off the drive to the regional airport from the north. The overall road will extend 33 miles, from Gleneagle south to the airport.

This is May 2006. What has come of it since then? The last article I find is from July 2006 in the Denver Post. I haven't found a company web site regarding the project. Has it gained any traction since then?

Denver Post
Developers want to spend $300 million to build toll roads around the eastern rim of Colorado Springs - which has some of the worst congestion in the country among cities under 500,000 residents, according to one national survey.

Friday, December 28, 2007

RTD Says Happy New Year With 17% Fare Hike

Denver's RTD is ringing in the new year with a system wide fare hike that includes a 17% on local fares. One of the interesting things that came out of this was that RTD is not using local sales tax forecasts but statewide forecasts and assuming they would hold true for the Denver metro. How much would a Denver metro economic forecast cost them? $10,000? $40,000? $100k? Surely that's cheaper than not being able to properly plan for the upcoming budget year instead of being $5.5 million short and having to come up with a last minute plan. That is, it wouldn't help avoid the shortfall but it would help plan. Knowing a couple years out that tax revenues will be lower would help them do things like institute a hiring freeze up front instead of last minute layoffs.

What it leaves me wondering is what sort of other half-assed (excuse my French) predictions did they make like this? How many of their FasTracks predictions were based off of state-wide sales tax revenues and assuming the exact same would hold true for metro Denver? Were some of their ridership projections based on population growth that holds true for the metro as a whole but not the areas around lines like the Gold Line or West Corridor? After all, those areas of Arvada, Lakewood and others aren't going to be seeing 30% population growth over the next decade. Yet that is what is predicted for metro Denver. Much of that growth will be experienced in areas like Douglas and Adams counties. Areas that Fastracks barely if at all serves.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Why People Voted For FasTracks?

So how many people who voted for FasTracks did so because, like Mr. Ballard, they felt they're neighbor would be riding the train and free up more space (or gas) on the streets for them to keep driving?

"I'd have been all for it," said Ballard, offering us some pop and water. "The more people that take light rail, the more gas I got for my Harley."

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Home Okay; Church Bad

Am I understand this correctly? Colorado law doesn't limit how close a gas or oil well can be drilled next to a home but it does limit how close they can be to a church?

Garfield County is challenging an energy company's plans to drill near several homes and a church south of Rifle, even though the company is backing off for now.

State laws limit how close wells can be located to churches, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church is nearby. Several neighbors also had complained about having a well so close to where people live, play and pray.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Only A Lawyer And A Judge

Remember the couple in Boulder that used an obscure Colorado law to take land from their neighbor without needing their neighbor's approval nor needing to compensate them? It turns out that the couple had been a lawyer and a judge. And judging from the letter they put out, they still don't get the point of the uproar is not over the legality of what they did but the morality of it. We know it's not right to forcefully take something from our neighbors and all the more so without compensating them. But McLean and Stevens don't seem to understand it. Then again, what do you expect from a lawyer and a judge other that being enamored with the letter of the law rather than the morality of it.

From CBS 4 Denver

McLean and Stevens said in the letter that they never trespassed on the Kirlins' property, they did not make the claim of adverse possession to protect a scenic view, and they did not use any connections within the court system to help their case, the Camera reported.

McLean is a former judge, and Stevens is an attorney.

"The trial was fair," the letter states. "We retired from the legal world long before the trial. We had never met the trial judge, who was appointed by Gov. Owens in the last year or two. ... The Kirlins lost and are, understandably, upset about losing, but they still have legal avenues to pursue that do not involve creating a media frenzy."

"We still hope that we can reconcile our differences with the Kirlins and restore peace in our neighborhood and community," McLean and Stevens wrote in their letter.

Susie Kirlin said she disagreed with nearly all the points made in the letter.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Rail to Denver's Airport.... WHY?

By far the least expensive solution to congestion to and from the airport would be to add capacity to our freeways. And it's also the least expensive. Why are we spending 20% more to get 1/2 the delay savings from rail?

Cost Delay Saved
New freeway lanes $305 61,200
HOV lanes/BRT 337 41,900
Diesel rail 374 29,700
Electric rail 571 30,300

Capital costs in millions, delay saved is annual hours of congestion delay saved by the project. Source: pp. 37-39 of the East Corridor Major Investment Study Final Report.

SLUT Going To Improve Business?

One local business owner doesn't believe the SLUT in Seattle will improve his business in the long run. And why should he? As I mentioned there aren't any studies showing that trolleys do.

Less than two weeks before today's opening, BluWater Bistro owner Bart Evans says he was still charting new ways to work due to blocked-off streets and intermittent fencing. While he understands the promise of living through the mess is that his business will get a boost once the streetcar starts carrying carloads of customers past his restaurant, he remains skeptical.

"Honestly, in the long run, the net effect is going to be zero," he says. "I don't know if you've looked at a map of it, but it doesn't really go anywhere. I just can't imagine someone living on Eastlake taking the trolley to freakin' where?"

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Seattle's SLUT

Seattle is close to opening it's South Lake Union Trolley line. The 1.3 mile line cost $50.5 million to build. That is correct folks, Seattle spent $52.1 million on a rail line route that could be walked in less than half an hour, one that was already being served well by buses, and one that has not scientific proof that the existence of the line itself will improve businesses along it.

You say "That can't be true; rail is permanent and it improves business. I've heard it." But the matter of the fact that those claims are baseless. Portland and Tacoma have had trolleys for years and been unable to show if and how those operations improved revenues for local businesses or how they spurred additional development. And that is part of the key, additional development.

Tacoma's trolley has been operating for over 4 years. Portland's for over 6 years years. In this day when we are bombarded with countless studies how is that no one's studied either of these lines? Trolley's are the hottest thing since.... well, whatever was hot in 1880. They're a late 19th century technology. For some reason they're back in flavor with the urban elite so surely if there were concrete economic gains to them, they'd be talking about them wouldn't they? Often times it's the lack of addressing an issue that makes me the most skeptical.

The 1.3 mile line is projected to carry a 300,000 riders in it's first year. Annual operating costs are expected to be $1.5 million with projected fare box collections still leaving the city short $1.1 million every year. Now these aren't huge numbers for a large city like Seattle (nor Denver nor Aurora nor Colorado Springs). However this is for just one line that operates on just 1.3 miles of track. This is one line that was already served by buses.

How many riders were already riding the bus? How long did that trip take? How much did it cost to operate them? How much business were those riders already generating? And give it's location will SLUT simply become a glorified taxi service for people attending events downtown and looking for cheaper parking on the north end of the line?

What does this mean for Denver? It appears that if we call a spade a spade, we'll not only need to come up with $40 million per mile to build street cars (that is, no cost advantage or LRT) and that annual operating costs versus fares is going to necessitate about another $1 million a year to operate it. So projects like extending the current light rail line at 30th & Downing a couple miles through 5 points or a couple miles around downtown will mean coming up with a hundred million or more to build the project and a couple million a year to operate it. Assuming that 10 police officers cost @ a million a year, which would do Five Points more good? Have another 10 - 20 officers a year to address their needs or a street car line? More so, since when did anyone ever show that current bus service is not meeting needs? The city of Denver recently raised taxes again to try to meet existing infrastructure needs. Why do we want to do it again?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Denver's GDP

According to Carpe Diem, Denver's GDP if it were a country would be worth $118 billion. How big is that? It's as large as Nigeria's economy. It's larger than Egypt and New Zealand's economies, also.