DALLAS — Colorado’s Regional Transportation District is putting off a decision on whether to ask voters for a sales tax increase to complete the $6.7 billion FasTracks rail plan by 2017.

At the district board meeting Tuesday, the members voted 13 to 2 to wait until May to make a decision. The board has received conflicting opinions on whether Denver-area voters would approve a 0.4-cent increase in the sales tax to cover the $2 billion funding shortfall.

RTD general manager Phil Washington said that an improving economy could lend support for calling a vote in November.

If the vote doesn’t happen this year, it could be postponed until next spring or included on the presidential ballot, which would require appealing to a broad spectrum of the electorate. 

Off-year elections usually attract small numbers of voters, who are typically older and more conservative than the general population, political consultants told the board.

“Based on recent research, we do not believe that 2011 is the year to ask for any tax increase,” a letter from the consultants read.

One positive indicator comes from new estimates of future FasTracks ridership.

Studies show that boardings will be about double the earlier forecasts on some corridors.

The RTD recently completed the 2011 FasTracks annual program evaluation, an annual update of program capital costs, operations and maintenance costs, sales and use tax forecasts, construction inflation assumptions, and program schedules.

The capital cost to implement the FasTracks program by 2019 is estimated at $6.7 billion, which shows no change from the 2010 program evaluation.

The sales and use tax forecast increased slightly from 2010 and is now projected to bring in $8 billion through 2035.

As part of the 2011 annual program evaluation, staff considered the best way to spend the $305 million remaining in the short term, and various taxing scenarios for the long term that would allow the program to be completed sooner rather than later.

The RTD has determined that allocating most of the $305 million among the three major corridors is the best option.

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