When I went out to visit the Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD), it was a quick-and-easy 22.8-mile commuter rail ride into Union Station, right down the street from RTD … oh wait, no, not yet. While on this trip I actually took SkyRide, a commuter bus service RTD provides to and from Denver International Airport, in a few years, the East Rail Line will connect people from the airport to downtown Denver.
The East Rail Line is just one part of the RTD FasTracks project. FasTracks is a multi-billion dollar expansion plan that includes 122 miles of commuter rail and light rail and 18 miles of BRT; a plan with a 0.4 percent voter-approved sales tax increase, passed in 2004.
RTD General Manager Phil Washington says finding partners and the employees’ innovation and willingness to step out of the box and do things that are not common in the industry are really how they’ve been able to push everything forward.
“We have gone out and really cobbled together some interesting financial funding tools to build our program,” he says. Working with more than just the usual suspects for partnerships is what’s helping RTD get infrastructure built in the region.
Getting FasTracks on Track
When it comes to partnering, the regional cooperation it took to get FasTracks where it is today was no small task. Pauletta Tonilas, RTD FasTracks public information officer, says, “Folks in a lot of cities can’t imagine their mayors all ending up on the same page and we had unanimous support from all the mayors in the metro area.” She continues, “They were all out there vigorously supporting and campaigning for FasTracks back in 2004 and that’s kind of an unprecedented thing.”
That level of support, however, was rooted in the failure of the 1997 “Guide the Ride” initiative. Guide the Ride was taken to the voters for a similar plan, 0.4 percent, and it failed. “Miserably,” Bill Van Meter, FasTracks Team assistant general manager Planning Department, states.
“As a result of that, we went back to each corridor and did planning studies, major investment studies where we much better defined our plans and commitments for each of the corridors.” He continues, “We worked with the citizens and the elected officials, defining those plans, getting reliable cost estimates and really getting a better understanding of what our commitment was in each of these corridors so when we came back in 2004, the mayors and their staffs and the citizens have been a part of the process of figuring out what the improvements were going to be in their corridor now.”
In 2004, the 0.4 percent sales tax increase passed 58 to 42, the exact opposite of what RTD lost by in the Guide the Ride.
There are about 48 miles of rail that’s currently in construction and committed to start construction. All of the environmental impact statements and environmental analysis required for all of the corridors are completed, both those that are currently funded and those that are not committed to or are unfunded at this point. Committed and completed projects are more than $4 billion and there is a $2.6 billion gap.
The board will soon decide whether or not to move to an election to ask for a 0.4 percent sales tax increase next year to fund the entire program by 2020. Van Meter says, “If not, it still will be completed, we still have the revenues, but it will be 2042.”
PENTA P and Eagle P3
The biggest project of FasTracks is the Eagle P3 project; the east corridor into Denver International Airport (DIA), the Gold Line to Wheat Ridgeland Arvada, and segment 1 of the Northwest Rail Line. Van Meter says, “This was, as far as our research could tell, the first transit public-private partnership in the country.”
The project is being delivered and operated under a concession agreement. The concessionaire selected through a bid process is Denver Transit Partners (DTP), which includes Fluor Enterprises, Uberior Investments and Laing Investments. Other firms involved include Ames Construction, Balfour Beatty Rail, Hyundai-Rotem USA, Alternative Concepts Inc., Fluor/HDR Global Design Consultants, PBS&J, Parsons Brinckerhoff, Interfleet Technology, Systra and Wabtec.