Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Denver Light Rail turns 15

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This month, Denver's Regional Transportation District is marking the 15th anniversary of light rail opening in the metro area. Since RTD opened the 5.3-mile Central Light Rail Line October 7,1994, RTD's 35-mile light rail system has carried nearly 150 million passenger trips. The light rail network carries an average of about 60,000 passenger trips every weekday, ahead of ridership projections. All four of RTD's light rail lines were built on time and on budget, and each exceeded ridership projections. 

RTD Chairman Lee Kemp said, "The 15th Anniversary of light rail in the metro area is yet another milestone among the many RTD has surpassed, with many more to come. The importance of providing rapid transit service, including the full FasTracks system, to meet the current and future needs of the region cannot be overstated.

In an effort to help address traffic congestion and growing pains, in 1994 the RTD succeeded in opening the Denver metro region's first light rail line. The 5.3-mile Central Corridor Line cost $116.5 million and was fully funded by RTD. Shortly after opening, ridership surpassed 17,000 daily boardings, 3,000 more than anticipated. The Central Corridor allowed RTD to remove 400 bus trips per day from downtown city streets. The new line not only demonstrated the success of light rail in the metro area but also provided the backbone of the planned regional light rail system.

RTD added the 8.7-mile Southwest line in July 2000, connecting with the cities of Sheridan, Englewood and Littleton. The two-mile Central Platte Valley/C-Line was added in April 2002, providing service to the Auraria Campus, Invesco Field at Mile High, the Pepsi Center and Denver Union Station, just two blocks from Coors Field. The 19-mile Southeast Line down I-25 from Broadway with a spur on I-225 to Parker Road, part of the T-REX Project, opened in November 2006.

The region's recognition of the importance that passenger rail will play in helping to address mobility needs, traffic concerns, smart growth and "green" transit options in the rapidly growing metro area led to RTD developing the comprehensive FasTracks rapid transit expansion program. Overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2004, FasTracks is RTD's voter-approved transit program to expand rail and bus service throughout the RTD service area. FasTracks will build 122 miles of commuter rail and light rail, 18 miles of bus rapid transit service, add 21,000 new parking spaces, redevelop Denver Union Station and redirect bus service to better connect the eight-county District. The FasTracks investment initiative is projected to create more than 10,000 jobs during the height of construction `and will pump billions of dollars into the regional economy.

The West Corridor Light Rail Line, the first FasTracks line, is well under construction, with RTD having received a $308-million full funding grant agreement in January from the Federal Transit Administration for the $634.7-million line. Opening in 2013, the West Corridor adds 12 stations and 12.1 miles of light rail running from DUS through Denver, Lakewood, and Golden, ending at the Jefferson County Government Center.

RTD just issued the request for proposals for the Eagle P3 project, the public-private partnership venture that will complete several FasTracks projects through one collective contract. As planned, the RFP was delivered to three pre-qualified teams on September 30.

The $2.3-billion Eagle P3 Project will design, build, finance, operate and maintain the commuter rail lines of the East Corridor from Denver Union Station to Denver International Airport, the Gold Line to Arvada and Wheat Ridge, a short segment of the Northwest Rail Corridor to Westminster and the commuter rail maintenance facility. In 2008, RTD short-listed three teams to compete for the P3 contract. Proposals from the bidding teams are due in spring 2010, and RTD expects to make a decision on selecting a final team in June 2010.

In addition, the FasTracks program is moving forward with the I-225 Corridor, the North Metro Corridor, Northwest Rail, the US 36 Corridor, the extensions to the Southwest and Southeast Lines, and the Denver Union Station redevelopment.

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