The first of several successes for the Denver metro area and RTD was celebrated over the past weekend. Its “birthing period” was 8.5 years from start to finish. The West Corridor light rail improvements from Union Station to the Jefferson County Government Center are the first rail passenger service corridor to be completed in the FasTracks Plan.
The plan, which was born and approved by voters in November, 2004, has certainly had its ups and downs along the way, but the West Corridor has always been steady even when issues would arise over condemnation of private property and differences between the Jefferson County Commissioners and Regional Transportation District Board of Directors.
The 12.1 mile corridor, which goes through Denver, Lakewood and Golden, will serve residents and businesses as well as being a significant catalyst for new development around the 11 transit stations. Higher density residential development including affordable housing will evolve as the commuter rail service gets established. And neighborhood retail and office developments will pop up too as the market strengthens, especially for new office development.
Residents in walking distance of the various transit stations will be able to leave their cars at home to hop on light rail passenger service. Others will drive from longer distances to use park n ride parking at the stations to enjoy timely and reliable rail service.
What is important with the festive opening of the West Corridor goes beyond the physical improvements, the investment of $707 Million and providing a more environmentally-friendly public transportation option. This corridor is the FIRST passenger rail service corridor to be completed as part of FasTracks.
This corridor demonstrates to the public and the voters that FasTracks is real by virtue of the physical reality of the West Corridor service. It finally happened and people seem pleased with the shiny new passenger trains, the convenient transit stations and free parking (if you live in the district). RTD has shown that it can deliver the finished product and complete it ahead of schedule. They say, “seeing is believing” and the West Corridor has shown the public and local government officials that RTD can do the job working through its private construction and engineering partners.
Next on the agenda will be the completed renovation of the expanded Denver Union Station. It is well on its way to completion and is probably one of the most complicated land deals and construction in the whole metro area.
The U.S. 36 BRT lanes/service will be completed in 2015. Then things really pop in 2016. The East Corridor from DUS to DIA will be completed and opened for service. Also, the Gold Line, I-225 Corridor and the first segment of the NW Rail Corridor will all be ready for public service. The North Metro Line will be progressing as well.
The extent of how far service can be built depends on what the private sector has to offer in response to a forthcoming request for proposals. Finally, the remaining portion of the NW Rail Line up to Boulder and over to Longmont awaits the fate of a study of options for this corridor.
In the meantime, we cheer the opening of the West Corridor and the first success of the FasTracks master plan.
Bill Christopher is former city manager of Westminster and used to represent District J on the RTD board of directors.