November 7, 2001
By Jim Mimiaga
Coloradoans will not ante up $50 million to test whether a high-tech monorail system is the solution for reducing traffic jams on Interstate I-70.
Amendment 26 asked voters’ permission to finance initial testing for a newly developed but little tested high-speed elevated train, by spending excess tax revenues.
Backers hoped to first link Denver International Airport with Vail — at a cost of $4 billion — and then eventually connect cities across the state.
But unofficial vote counts showed that with 26 percent of ballots counted, 66 percent denied the proposal, while 34 percent approved it.
Critics, including Gov. Bill Owens, were skeptical of magnetic propulsion technology on a large-scale system. And they were not convinced that a monorail would reduce congestion sufficiently.
"It would move less than 2 percent of traffic off I-70, and the technology does not exist yet, so that is why the governor was not supportive," Dick Wadhams, Owens’ press spokesman, told the Journal late Tuesday.
Opponents cited alternatives to reducing traffic congestion that include expanding existing light-rail systems in metro Denver and improving current highways.
"Indeed it is correct that trying to expand I-70 to four lanes all across the state is not possible, but nobody is proposing that," Wadhams said. "What we can do is add acceleration and deceleration lanes to smoothly move traffic.
"Bringing light rail (that) we know works to congested areas is a more affordable solution," he said.
The cost-benefit ratio for pavement and commuter trains systems beats the Amendment 26 proposal, Wadhams said. "We have a (special district) for Denver transportation needs. That way citizens in Cortez are not taxed to build mass-transit for the Front Range."
Backers were convinced that the magnetic, linear-induction motor, developed by Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, was the best option for putting a rail system across Colorado’s rugged terrain.
"The system is technically strong and the elevated track worked well for the unique challenges of Colorado mountains," said Miller Hudson, executive director of the Colorado Alliance for a Rapid Transit Solution.
Hudson and other supporters of the monorail hope to convince voters again of the merits in future ballot initiatives. Avoiding investing in state-wide rapid transit will make traffic problems worse and increase costs of such projects in the future.
"It is a debate about the future and how we plan to move the 10 million people we expect to gain in the next 30 years," Hudson said. "We can’t pave our way out of this problem — that is why three years ago we started studying alternatives and this was it."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.)