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May 3, 2024

House Advances Bills to Establish Passenger Rail, Incentivize Economic Development in Colorado

Legislation creates dedicated funding to leverage historic federal dollars for reliable, safe, and convenient transit and passenger rail in Colorado and boost economic diversification for coal-transitioning communities

DENVER, CO - The House today advanced legislation on a preliminary vote aimed at leveraging millions in federal infrastructure funding to bring passenger rail service to Colorado and expanding public transportation options across the state.

The House also advanced legislation on a preliminary vote that would support both the realization of mountain passenger rail and economic diversification efforts in transitioning coal communities in Northwest Colorado.

“Increased car traffic on our roads wears down our infrastructure and worsens air quality, which is why we’re passing this historic legislation that will allow us to build a passenger rail system through the Front Range and our Western Slope communities,” said Speaker Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, sponsor of SB24-184 and SB24-190. “Our passenger rail legislation will also boost economic prosperity for our rural economies, especially those in our coal transition communities. I’m proud to carry these bills to leverage federal transportation funding and create jobs and commerce on the Western Slope.”

“The Front Range Passenger Rail is a long time in the making, and this legislation would secure federal funding and create a long-term funding mechanism to make expanded passenger rail a reality across Front Range communities,” said Rep. Andrew Boesenecker, D-Fort Collins, sponsor of SB24-184. “From Fort Collins and the Western Slope to Colorado Springs and Pueblo, Coloradans have been asking for more transit options. Our legislation would build on existing transit systems and expand transit partnership opportunities to ensure we’re providing transportation services that work for the needs of our communities.”

SB24-184 would implement a congestion impact fee to mitigate the congestion, and wear and tear on Colorado’s roads caused by rental vehicles and offset the climate impacts of congestion. Revenue from the fee would create sustainable funding to be used as a matching source for federal investment opportunities for statewide transit and rail, and support other forms of multimodal transportation.

The bill would encourage the Regional Transportation District (RTD), the Front Range Passenger Rail District, and the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) to coordinate efforts to secure the funding needed to establish the first phase of Front Range Passenger Rail service from Denver to Fort Collins, while exploring near-term opportunities to fund regional transit and rail projects along the Front Range, through Southern Colorado and into the mountains. 

It would also direct the Colorado Transportation Investment Office (CTIO) to use three studies in the near term to fund regionally important transit and rail services originating from the Front Range Passenger Rail Service Development Plan, the Mountain Corridor Service Development Plan, and the Statewide Connectivity Study that aims to build a more comprehensive statewide bus system, building on the successes of Bustang, Snowstang and Pegasus.

Finally, the bill encourages CTIO to fund a full suite of multimodal infrastructure projects, including bus and passenger rail, and would require a new, multimodal strategic capital plan that aligns with CDOT’s ten-year plan, statewide transit plans, greenhouse gas pollution reduction goals, and other greenhouse gas reduction priorities and pollution reduction planning standards. 

SB24-190 would make the design and use of mountain passenger rail more sustainable by incentivizing the transportation of freight from companies that establish operations in coal transition communities along the potential rail line, particularly in Craig and Hayden. The bill would incentivize businesses and operators to utilize freight lines that are at risk of inactivity due to declining usage as a result of the transition away from coal. 

“Expanding rail operations into the Western Slope opens up the door for economic opportunities that will bring jobs and business into coal transition communities like Craig and Hayden,” said Rep. Meghan Lukens, D-Steamboat Springs, sponsor of SB24-190. “This bill incentivizes new economic activity along the Mountain Rail corridor by offering new tax credits for rural businesses that use rail to transport their products. Our legislation is crucial in supporting rural businesses as we transition to renewable energy.”

SB24-190 would create two income tax credits – one for businesses that use rail to transport their freight into or out of a coal transition community, and one for rail carriers that utilize a rail line at risk of inactivity or abandonment due to lack of demand. It would also make more of the region eligible for economic support from OEDIT, creating opportunities for economic diversification and offering needed support for mountain rail development. Potential mountain rail would also facilitate increased tourism in the region, create additional economic growth, and allow locals to commute safely between Winter Park and Craig, with stops in between.

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