After being on hold for over a year, the planned renovation and expansion of Union Station is alive once more with the announcement, on February 6, of a $304 million federal loan which completes the funding package for the new transit hub.
According to Westword, Bill Mosher, owner representative for the project, is all kind of excited - as he should be. Public agencies have been working for years to complete the funding for the renovation of the historic train station. In addition to cosmetics, there will be accommodations for light rail, Amtrak and the proposed FasTracks commuter rail services. Present plans call for a sleek new train room addition and an underground bus circular , plus additional tracks for a variety of different rail services.
Mosher expects to break ground sometime in April with the entire project to be completed in four years.
That's just great for Denver Light Rail and Amtrak - they'll be ready when Union Station is. FasTracks, on the other hand, is an entirely different story. RTD's ambitious commuter train system may not run a train into union station for many long years after the transit hub is finished. Why? Money, of course.
The Denver Post recently reported that RTD faces a funding gap of $2.4 billion (with a "b") for the system. FasTracks was originally funded primarily through a .4 percent sales tax increase that was approved by voters in 2004. Now RTD would like the citizens to double their contribution so that FasTracks can launch in 2017 or, at the latest, 2019. It depends on which year the tax increase is approved by the voters. Also according to The Denver Post, "Failure to approve a tax increase could push FasTracks completion to 2040." That may make the new Union Station look as empty and forlorn as it does now - for years to come.
It is feared that this year may not be a good time to ask the voters to approve a tax increase. And, maybe next year isn't going to look much better. And, there's no guarantee that Fastracks costs aren't going to skyrocket again. Business leaders and the other usual suspects (labor, civic and environmental groups) have formed a group called the Coalition for Smart Transit who's purpose is to sell the tax increase to the electorate. They think they will need to raise $4 million to create a campaign that will beat the voter over the head badly enough to get the votes needed for the tax increase.
If only RTD could budget and plan as well as they run political campaigns.