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FASTER Sponsor Rice Taps Brakes on Romer’s Colfax Streetcar Idea

By Debi Brazzale, COLORADO NEWS AGENCY

A pending bill to fund a streetcar line along Colfax Avenue in Denver and Aurora–using dollars drawn from a statewide hike in vehicle-registration fees under last year’s FASTER transportation plan–might not actually fit under the 2009 legislation, that measure’s author said today.

FASTER, championed and signed into law by Gov. Bill Ritter, raises registration fees an average of $40 per passenger car to fund upgrades to structurally deficient bridges as well as to pay for road maintenance. A portion of the funds going to road maintenance is allocated to local governments under the measure. Denver Democratic Sen. Chris Romer’s push for a streetcar line, reported in Monday’s Denver Post, would be funded in part by the local share of the FASTER fee hike, using revenue from vehicles registered within a special district surrounding the streetcar route.

Rep. Joe Rice, D-Littleton, who sponsored FASTER and shepherded it through heated, partisan debate last spring, says he would be OK with Romer’s idea so long as the state’s revenue share isn’t touched and the streetcar project conforms to local government’s permissible use of the money–which he doubts.

“Were going to stay true to what we passed last year and I don’t think this falls under either category,” said Rice who noted he hasn’t seen the bill because it has yet to be introduced.

Both Romer and Sen. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora, who will also sponsor the bill, believe that running a streetcar down Colfax will be a boon to the area in the long run and that it will help jump-start the local economy.

“I think it’s a very grand idea of reinstituting a way of transportation that we had in the past,” said Williams, adding that it would be an excellent way for people, especially employees, to get to the Fitzsimmons medical complex on East Colfax Avenue in Aurora.

Romer, thinks that his idea will spur further development and will put a dent in Colorado’s unemployment numbers.

“In places like Portland, where they have put in the streetcar, economic development has been spectacular,” said Romer.  “What the baseball stadium did for LODO, a streetcar would do for Colfax. Hopefully we can get things going rather quickly and put people to work.”

Minority Republicans, who almost unanimously opposed FASTER and have derided it as a $250 million “car tax” on Colorado motorists, say Romer’s proposal suggests the proceeds could be squandered, too.

“Those who represent Denver need to quit coming up with ideas that takes money from the rest of the state to support their initiatives,” said House Minority Leader Mike May, of Parker.  “To have them siphon off of a tax—FASTER–that I didn’t even support, I’m sorry, I can’t support that.”

Another consideration that would make the streetcar idea viable is whether or not the proposed streetcar district can obtain federal stimulus money for the project, and Romer says that time is running out to apply for those funds.

“If the feds are giving away money, I’d get to the candy store fast,” said Romer.

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