MAX Route Expansion Not Currently Needed

Everyone goes through growing pains, and Fort Collins is no exception. As the city has seen its population increase dramatically since the turn of the century, local leadership has had to adapt to accommodate the burgeoning transportation needs of the growing populace and allay traffic issues.

One area in which the city has seen success in adressing these issues is in the implementation of their MAX transit bus system. The rapid transit system, which runs along a five-mile stretch of Mason street, has proved popular since its introduction in 2014. This has led some to suggest that the system be expanded to other areas, such as West Elizabeth Street in the Campus West area. While the expansion of rapid transit seems to be a smart plan for adapting to continued growth in the future, proposals to do so now seem premature. After all, the MAX system was implemented only two years ago, and just because a project proved successful in one area doesn’t guarantee it will succeed somewhere else. The MAX system does not need to be expanded to Campus West.

At first glance, expanding rapid transit to this section of Elizabeth seems like a good idea: the route provides a direct connection to the CSU campus and the area is packed with potential student riders. However, this area also has many characteristics that would make installing a rapid transit system challenging and far less cost-efficient.

For starters, there is much less space available for MAX infrastructure along West Elizabeth than there was along Mason street to accommodate the MAX originally. A significant portion of West Elizabeth is sandwiched between businesses, apartments and neighborhoods, with little to no land publicly available near the street. Construction of the MAX’s 12 stops on its Mason route cost over 43 million dollars by itself, and only 13 percent of the project’s total budget was spent on land acquisition. If a MAX route is pursued on Elizabeth, both figures would likely end up much higher, costing taxpayers far more for the same service.

Furthermore, the proposed West Elizabeth route lacks an imperative attribute that the Mason Street Corridor has: guideway space. One of the reasons that the MAX system is so effective is that its route is dominated by guideways, special roads designed for its buses alone. These dedicated lanes mean that MAX buses don’t have to compete with other vehicles on the road for much of the system’s circuit, allowing them to travel more rapidly than other means of transportation. On West Elizabeth, there simply isn’t the space to create the same advantage. Even if the city can acquire land to build stations along the route, MAX buses would still have to compete with everything else on the road, from all the campus commuters to the other city bus that runs in the area. It is highly unlikely that it would be as effective as the current MAX route or even quicker than other buses.

Expanding the MAX to West Elizabeth simply seems like too much of a risk to move forward on at present. It would be a different conversation if the MAX system was overburdened and had a long-established reputation among town, but rapid transit is still relatively new in Fort Collins. It just isn’t established well enough in the city’s culture to warrant another nine-figure investment into an expansion that is doubtful to be as efficient as the current Mason circuit. MAX ridership, while steadily increasing overall, has been inconsistent, and needs to display consistent growth over a longer period of time before an expansion should be considered. Rapid transit appears to be a good way to address Fort Collins’ growing pains moving into the future, but the system needs to prove itself as a successful model for the long-term before the idea can be expanded.

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