By Robin Kniech, FRESC Campaign for Responsible Development Coordinator & Program Director
In 2007, the realization of a taxpayer-funded mass transit rail system for the Denver Metro region known as FasTracks was called into question when project costs increased from an estimated $4.7 billion to $6.1 billion. Under mounting pressure to identify new funding to deliver the project, the Regional Transit District (RTD) decided to pursue a federal pilot project for privatization of several of the FasTracks corridors. The pilot will allow the agency to stretch out its payments over a longer period of time, in exchange for allowing a private entity to Design-Build-Finance-Operate-Maintain a Commuter Rail Maintenance Facility and two rail lines, including the important line running from downtown to Denver International Airport. RTD estimates it will cost $1.9 billion to build these three projects, but the estimated total cost to RTD taxpayers over the course of the extended payback period has not yet been disclosed.
FRESC maintains a strong interest in ensuring that FasTracks is adequately funded, but believes that public infrastructure works best when it is owned and controlled by the public. While FRESC did not oppose the privatization of these lines, we will vigorously promote public accountability and careful implementation to ensure maximum protection for taxpayers, transit riders, and workers. Read A Downtown Denver for Everybody? for more information on how accountability at FasTracks gets us closer to our vision of an equitable and sustainable economy in Downtown Denver.
FRESC Victory for Public Input on FasTracks
In January 2008, FRESC achieved a major victory for government transparency and public input on the FasTracks project. As a result of FRESC’s public testimony and advocacy, the RTD Board of Directors committed to early public input in the Request for Proposals (RFP) that will lay the groundwork for the private design and operation of a significant portion of FasTracks. Superseding a staff recommendation to release the draft only to industry bidders, the RTD Board amended the plan to include a public meeting and an opportunity for public input no later than the Summer of 2008, which is more than six months prior to the scheduled delivery of the RFP to the Board for final approval.
FRESC Advances Discussion of Good Jobs
Privatization of government services has often resulted in cost savings only by cutting the wages and benefits of hard-working employees who build and maintain our public infrastructure. In response to concerns raised by FRESC and RTD Board members, RTD staff have begun to outline steps they will take to safeguard job quality in the privatization process:
- All of the construction on the privatized projects will be governed by Davis-Bacon prevailing wages (which ensure workers make no less than the most common wage and benefit package paid to workers in the local, private construction market).
- The agency will conduct a survey of wages paid to those in transit operations and maintenance, and there will be provisions in the RFP to ensure workers on the privatized lines earn comparable rates.
- Nothing in the RFP or contract agreements will preclude privatized workers from joining a union.
FRESC will monitor RTD’s implementation of these commitments and will continue to lead efforts to maximizecommunity input and the community benefits of this unprecedented public investment.