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InTransition Magazine : Transportation Planning, Practice & Progress

Archive Edition

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Success of Predecessors Laid Tracks for New Lines

By Greg Henry

Courtesy of RTD

A Southeast line train runs along the median of I-225.

Not a shovel of dirt has turned nor has a single track been laid, but already there’s an air of confidence about Denver’s massive FasTracks rail project, which is not scheduled for completion until 2016. Credit its predecessors, the Central, Southwest and Southeast corridor light rail lines, which have been major successes.

The Central line, which opened in 1994, connected a major bus stop at Interstate 25 and Broadway with downtown. The Southwest line opened in 2000 and connected Denver’s southwest suburbs with downtown. The Southeast line, part of a larger, $1.75 billion Transportation Expansion (T-REX) plan, added light rail lines to the south and southeast corridors while adding lanes south of downtown on I-25. The Southeast line opened on time and on budget in November 2006, two years after voters approved the $4.7 billion FasTracks project. But construction on the Southeast line was occurring during the election campaign for FasTracks.

“I think it was very, very positive,” Denver Regional Transportation District General Manager Cal Marsella said of the Southeast line’s effect on the FasTracks vote. “The public was able to see [the project as it was being built]. The project showed RTD and CDOT [Colorado Department of Transportation] [were] capable of working together, and we were able to do a project without paralyzing the area.”

Public fears of massive traffic tie-ups caused by T-REX construction never materialized. The biggest complaints came after the Southeast line opened. Overwhelming ridership caused parking garages and lots to fill quickly, forcing commuters to park illegally or on surrounding streets. Bus shuttles to light-rail stations that were trimmed had to be reinstated because of the demand. Train cars had to be added on some portions of the Southeast line at peak hours because of heavy ridership.

Six months after the Southeast line opened, an RTD survey of 853 riders showed satisfaction with the light rail system. The survey, conducted by the Howell Research Group, claimed 87 percent of the riders polled in April rated the Southeast light rail service as either good or excellent.

Perhaps the biggest byproduct of the line, which parallels I-25 south about 16 miles from downtown Denver, is the businesses and residences that are sprouting up nearby. San Francisco-based Kimpton hotel group is planning a 200-room, $75 million, four-star hotel in Greenwood Village, a Denver suburb. Construction on the 17-story hotel was expected to begin in late 2007, according to published reports.

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