25 February 2014

Colorado High Speed Rail Cost Estimate Updated

Two studies from the Colorado Department of Transportation have estimated the cost of building high speed rail in Colorado.
With travel speeds of 90 to 180 mph, the system could save considerable time, said CDOT. A trip from C-470 and Interstate 70 in Golden to Breckenridge would take just more than a half hour; travel to Vail would take 50 minutes. Meanwhile, a trip from Fort Collins to DIA would take less than 40 minutes, and Colorado Springs to DIA would take less than an hour.

CDOT also forecasts such a rapid system could serve 18 million to 19 million passengers a year in 2035.

But preliminary capital costs are insurmountable, said Mark Imhoff, director of CDOT's division of transit and rail. A transit system linking DIA to Eagle would cost $16.5 billion, while Fort Collins to Pueblo comes in at $13.6 billion. A maximum of $1 billion to $3 billion could be obtained in private financing, leaving a considerable shortfall, Imhoff said.
This is consistent with a previous report from November of last year, which also noted that the Fort Collins to Colorado Springs portion would cost about $9.8 billion and carry 13 million passengers a year. Extending light rail from Colorado Springs to Pueblo would add $2.8 billion to construction costs and only modestly improve ridership.

The DIA to Eagle route would add about 4-5.5 million passengers (after considering an estimated allowance for Colorado Springs to Pueblo traffic out of the total), with an additional cost of $16.5 billion of infrastructure costs. Thus, the cost per rider in the mountains would be about four to five times as expensive per passenger as the Fort Collins to Colorado Springs route to build.

Assuming a 2.5% per annum interest rate (about the cost of government bond financing) and no principal payments, the infrastructure cost for the Fort Collins to Colorado Springs route would be about $18.85 per trip. On the same basis, the mountain route infrastructure cost would be $75.00 to $103.13 per trip.

Imhoff is right that the infrastructure costs are insurmountable with respect to the mountain route, and with respect to the Colorado Springs to Pueblo route. But, the infrastructure costs aren't nearly so insurmountable with respect to the proposed Fort Collins to DIA to Colorado Springs route.

Notably, neither study, however, evaluates the cost savings associated with reducing traffic and the need to expand I-25 and I-70. Major interstate highway construction projects routinely cost in the billions of dollars, and once rail provides a faster trip than driving, further leveraged by gridlock on old highways, rather than a slower one as it does now, the impact on ridership and road construction demand is non-linear and game changing.

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