Issue Paper

By Stephen R. Mueller and Dennis Polhill
Senior Fellows, The Independence Institute

In Brief:

Congress is considering giving Denver hundreds of millions of dollars to construct an eight mile extension of the existing five mile light rail system. The Regional Transportation District (RTD) is pushing for a vote on a tax increase to fund even more light rail. With new EPA air quality standards looming over the city, the battle over the light rail system is about to begin. The facts show that light rail in Denver is a waste of money:

  • Light rail requires subsidies forever. Every light rail project in the nation, once funded by the federal government, has requested additional federal funding to provide operating assistance. Refusing to fund new light rail projects will help Congress avoid future additional construction and operating subsidies.
  • The costs are too high. Light rail transit is one of the most expensive forms of transportation. Even RTD – the Colorado entity pushing light rail – estimates that light rail in Denver will cost more than twenty million dollars a mile to construct. Other forms of mass transportation systems can carry the same number of riders at a much lower cost.
  • The benefits are too low. Light rail will not reduce traffic congestion, nor will it improve air quality. In addition, there will be no economic benefit. In fact, there will be a huge net loss to the economy.
  • There are better solutions to Denver’s transportation needs. The amount of travel done by rail is a fraction of that done by highway vehicles. This situation is not going to change with the construction of light rail. People have increasingly decided to use their personal automobiles over public transportation services. Additional highway improvements, carpool lanes, and buses would be far more beneficial to Denver than light rail.
  • The people of Denver have already voted against light rail, rejecting it by a 54 to 46 percent margin.

Entire Paper: Light Rail in Denver – Taking the Taxpayers for a Ride (PDF)