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A Monorail Runs Through It 

Fix for the mountain traffic jam or a Willie Wonka welfare project?

click to enlarge Artist rendering of the proposed monorail along Interstate 70
  • Artist rendering of the proposed monorail along Interstate 70

Their foes deride the idea of a monorail through Colorado's mountains as a Disneyland-inspired fantasy. But proponents of the plan to develop a high-speed rail system along Interstate 70 believe the concept is a courageous, creative and overdue solution to the current traffic jam through the mountains.

On Nov. 6, Colorado voters will decide whether to give initial approval to the Colorado Intermountain Fixed Guideway Authority (CIFGA) for research into whether a 160-mile monorail from Denver International Airport west to Eagle County is technologically feasible.

The idea of a high-speed monorail has many intrigued -- proponents submitted a record-breaking 115,000 signatures asking the measure be placed on the November ballot. Colorado Secretary of State Donetta Davidson has since ruled that enough of those signatures were valid for the measure to make the ballot.

However, last week, Jon Caldera of the Golden-based Independence Institute, said he planned to challenge Davidson's decision, which could result in a forced recount of signatures and potentially invalidate the ballot question.

Caldera, the president of the libertarian-minded anti-government think tank, insisted their review of the signatures in this year's monorail proposal revealed multiple errors.

However, CIFGA executive director Miller Hudson believes Caldera's efforts to thwart the monorail is part of a larger plot.

"They are concerned this thing will pass, and it's easier to strangle the baby in the cradle instead of waiting for us to come back in four years asking to build it," Hudson said. "You don't have to leave the country to find people who are afraid of Democracy."


Silence of the media

If the measure is ultimately approved by the voters, it would free up $50 million out of the state's Taxpayer Bill of Rights surplus -- the equivalent of an estimated $19 per taxpayer. That money would be used to develop the technology, at the high-tech Transportation Test Center near Pueblo, to determine whether a monorail from Denver International Airport 160 miles west to the Eagle County Airport could actually be built.

If the technology proves sound, Hudson said, the group will likely return to voters in three or four years and ask for an estimated $4 billion to build the $23 million-per-mile monorail system. He estimates the cost of a round-trip monorail ticket at about $40, with monthly passes also available.

The group believes that, eventually, similar high-speed monorails would connect other parts of Colorado, including the Front Range cities of Colorado Springs, Denver and Fort Collins.

However, opposition by the Independence Institute isn't the only challenge that the group has faced in getting the word out to the voters about the concept of a monorail.

"We put some press releases out trying to tell people about the monorail [plan], but since September 11, we can't get a story into the media," Hudson said.

However, since the day of the terrorist attacks, Hudson suspects that many people are taking an entirely new look at transportation -- and believes that the concept of a high-speed monorail may be more warmly received.

But Caldera terms the project little more than an "Oompa Loompa welfare project" whose petition signers were politically nave and must have simply "liked the groovy idea of a monorail going through the mountains." And, they probably were the same voters who supported Colorado's medical marijuana bill two years ago, Caldera claimed.

"Those people who pushed this [monorail proposal] through should get [medical marijuana supporters] on board because they are obviously high," he said. "[This] is a piece of technology that can only exist in the movie Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

"There's no monorail in the world that can go as fast and be done as cheaply [as they claim] -- it's sheer fantasy, right up there with transporter beams and rocket launcher transports."


A little Colorado history

However, historians have detailed the legends of men and women who have previously vanquished Colorado's unconquerable mountains.

In 1928, David Moffat's dream of building a railroad connecting Denver with the rich ranching, farming and coal-mining areas of northwestern Colorado was realized -- after naysayers insisted it could never be done.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison was thought to be impassible, until the narrow gauge railroad killed that notion. Even Pikes Peak's namesake, Zebulon Pike, never made it to the top of the mountain, claiming the peak could never be conquered.

Colorado's forefathers, Hudson pointed out, planned for future generations by way of building reservoirs and water diversion projects. But during CIFGA's petition collecting, he said, some people shied away from signing the petitions, claiming they would be unlikely to ever use a monorail system that wouldn't be completed until 2010 or 2012.

"There's a selfishness in the electorate these days, a 'What will I get out of this?' kind of mentality. It's a little disheartening," Hudson said.

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