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Biden infrastructure plan would help Front Range Rail

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Posted at 8:41 PM, Apr 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-01 22:41:08-04

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — President Biden's infrastructure legislation would benefit plans to build a commuter rail service along Colorado's Front Range. The $2.2 trillion American Jobs Plan includes $80 billion specifically for rail improvements.

The CEO of Amtrak, Bill Flynn, said in a news release that the legislation will help his company rebuild and improve its national rail network. Amtrak released a 15-year plan to repair, upgrade and expand passenger rail service to 160 new communities including a new service route connecting Pueblo to Cheyenne, Wyoming.

"With this federal investment, Amtrak will create jobs and improve equity across cities, regions, and the entire country – and we are ready to deliver," Flynn said.

"America needs a rail network that offers frequent, reliable, sustainable, and equitable train service. Now is our time, let's make rail the solution."

Colorado Governor Jared Polis said in a statement Thursday his administration shares many of the priorities reflected in the American Jobs Plan, such as investments in road and bridge infrastructure, bolstering main streets, and encouraging a market-driven shift toward electrifying fleets of large manufacturers.

"These kinds of investments, combined with legislative efforts being driven right here in Colorado, can pave the way toward a modernized transportation system, reduce traffic, and lead to increased prosperity and growth," Governor Polis said.

Members of the Southwest Chief and Front Range Passenger Rail Commission have been holding meetings to study and develop a framework for a Colorado rail network since 2017.

Colorado Springs City Councilwoman Jill Gaebler represents the Pikes Peak Area Regional Transportation Authority on that board.

"It was very exciting to see this new map of a potential line for the Front Range Passenger Rail along with a lot of other expanded service throughout the United States," Gabler said.

She thinks policymakers and citizens should consider rail as a viable alternative to increasing vehicle congestion on Interstate 25.

"We know that 85 percent of the growth in Colorado is occurring along the Front Range and it will not be, I-25 will not be enough to provide reliable and safe and sustainable transportation along our Front Range into the near future or the long distant future," Gaebler said.

The commission created by state lawmakers and has representatives from the Front Range communities that would benefit from the railroad. Nonvoting members include representatives from Amtrak and the freight rail operators.

Gaebler said the commission recently completed an alignment study and state lawmakers were working on a bill during the 2020 session to create a ballot question for voters in the participating communities seeking to form a rail district. The bill had to be shelved when the pandemic hit.

"We are all hopeful that a similar bill will come forward in this session and it would create, finally create a passenger rail district," Gaebler said.

While the $80 billion included in the American Jobs Plan is a substantial investment, Gaebler believes that a mix of federal, state, and local funds will be needed to make the Front Range Passenger Rail a reality.

If voters created a special district to support the railroad, they would likely be asked to increase taxes to help pay for the infrastructure.

"The idea that we would have a partner in Amtrak and they would contribute funding, the state would contribute funding and maybe taxpayers would contribute funding makes it a lot more equitable."

The only disappointing news to come out of the Amtrak Vision plan was the absence of a rail spur on the map connecting Pueblo to the Southwest Chief line. Commissioners have been studying the feasibility of extending the Southwest Chief's line north from Trinidad to Pueblo before heading east to La Junta.

Pueblo County joined multiple Southern Colorado communities in contributing money towards a multi-state effort to repairs the Southwest Chief line back in 2015.