The Colorado Dept. of Transportation recently issued two draft reports summarizing the feasibility of high-speed transit systems in both the Interstate 70 Mountain Corridor and I-25 Front Range Corridor. Both studies—conducted by CDOT’s Division of Transit and Rail (DTR) and a team of outside experts—confirmed that high-speed transit is technically feasible in both corridors, but not financially feasible in either corridor at this time.
“It is clear that we currently lack the financial capacity to build either of these projects,” said DTR Director Mark Imhoff. “However, the studies show that a statewide system could provide many benefits to the businesses, individuals and tourists that depend on our interstates and provide a roadmap for capitalizing on improvements in the local, state and federal financial climates when they happen.”
The studies envision a statewide system with up to 340 miles of high speed transit between Fort Collins and Pueblo and between Denver International Airport and Eagle County. With travel speeds of 90 to 180 mph, the system could save about one-fourth to two-thirds from the time it takes to drive the same trips in optimal travel conditions today.
The system is forecast to serve 18 to 19 million passengers a year in 2035 (4 to 6 million in the I-70 Mountain Corridor; 12 to 14 million along the Front Range). Significant travel time savings are also expected. For example, a trip from C-470/I-70 in Golden to Breckenridge would take just over a half hour and travel to Vail would take 50 minutes.
Along the Front Range, traveling from Fort Collins to DIA would take less than 40 minutes, and Colorado Springs to DIA would take less than an hour. However, the system is expensive. Preliminary capital cost estimates range from $75 million per mile on the Front Range to $105 million per mile in the mountain corridor, with an estimated $30-billion price tag for the whole system ($16.5 billion from DIA to Eagle; $13.6 billion from Fort Collins to Pueblo).
Dividing the system into smaller, less-expensive segments that could be implemented in phases also has significant financing challenges. Input from the financial community leads CDOT to believe that a maximum of $1 billion to $3 billion could be obtained in private financing, leaving a capital-cost gap of billions of dollars.
New local, state and federal funds would be needed to cover this shortfall.
Population along the Front Range is anticipated to increase from four million today to six million by 2040. During the same time period, population in the I-70 Mountain Corridor is expected to double to 400,000.
In many parts of the world, high-speed transit offers a solution to congested highways and congested airports for countless travelers. Many U.S. regions also are upgrading existing commuter rail tracks to high-speed standards or building new high-speed transit systems.