CO: Loveland to study sites for Front Range Rail station

May 8, 2024
Final plans for the Front Range line include a stop in Loveland, one of eight between Fort Collins and Pueblo. But where exactly to put the stop and what kind of station to build for it were tasks left to the municipalities.

May 6—As a proposal for inter-city passenger rail gains steam across Colorado's Front Range, anticipation for a new station in Loveland is building among city staff and planners. On Monday, transportation engineer Alex Donaldson updated the city's Transportation Advisory Board on the search for a site, how it will connect with city transit and potential grant funding to help pay for it.

"While we have some sites that we like, we have a lot of unknown knowns," Donaldson said. "...So we have a need to do some planning, some studying and some pencil sharpening to get some research to figure out which of these sites is the best site for the city."

Though more than a decade in the making, the latest plans to bring passenger rail to Colorado started gaining momentum in 2021 with the formation of the Front Range Passenger Rail District, a quasi-governmental entity that will supervise financing, construction and operation of the proposed 200-mile service.

If approved by voters, the district will also have authority to levy a tax on residents within the 13 counties along the route to fund ongoing operations.

In December, the district notified city staff that the final plans for the Front Range line include a stop in Loveland, one of eight between Fort Collins and Pueblo. But where exactly to put the stop and what kind of station to build for it were tasks left to the municipalities.

In Loveland, that task has fallen to Donaldson and his team, who met with rail district staff in March to make an initial review of potential sites. Councilor Jon Mallo, who represents the city on several regional transportation committees, also contributed to the discussion.

"This rail is going to be a fantastic opportunity for Loveland, just because of what it takes to get to Denver," Mallo said of having a stop in the city. "I think the most pressing need is transportation between Loveland and Denver that is speedy and convenient."

The list of feasible sites in Loveland has been narrowed down to a few, but making the final determination is going to take some more sophisticated analysis, Donaldson told TAB members, including environmental and engineering studies, services that can cost thousands of dollars.

To avoid the expense, Loveland will be partnering with Fort Collins to apply for a grant from the Federal Railroad Administration to cover the site selection expenses.

"We have a nice opportunity," he said. "Our neighbor to the north, Fort Collins, they're in largely the same boat as we are in terms of answering these questions."

Donaldson did not name the sites under consideration for the Loveland rail station during the presentation and Mallo declined to name them when asked by the Reporter-Herald. However, one is likely the city of Loveland transit's new north transfer center on 37th Street, which was completed in January.

The center has 88 parking spaces, covered shelters and pedestrian friendly walkways, but no permanent building, a feature that is coming in phase 2.

But before that can begin, COLT needs to find funding for the anticipated $3.5 million in costs, and plans to seek it in grants from the federal government, though that "free" can come at a high price, Donaldson explained.

"They're really a great funding tool, but they're not a silver bullet," he said. "And the reason for that is there's two catches."

The first catch is that the projects under consideration usually have to meet a seven-figure minimum in costs, and not all city projects need that much funding. The second is that grant funding often requires the municipality to contribute 20% of the overall costs, a threshold that is often difficult to meet.

To overcome the second catch, the city plans to ask the state for a grant from a new local match grant program that provides the matching funds if the federal grant is awarded. To support that grant application, the TAB board members voted unanimously to sign a letter in favor of both projects. On May 21, Donaldson will appear before Loveland City Council to get their support, a requirement for the funding.

The Front Range Rail has several more hurdles to clear before becoming a reality, not least of which is the voters. But whether that will be this November or at a future election is unclear. The district is expected to announce in the coming weeks whether it will go to a vote in 2024 or 2026.


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