FasTracks is a multi-billion dollar public transportation expansion plan under construction in metropolitan Denver, Colorado, USA. Developed by the Regional Transportation District (RTD), the plan calls for new commuter rail and light rail, bus rapid transit, new Park-n-Ride facilities at light rail and bus stations, and enhance bus service. Six new light rail, electric commuter rail and diesel commuter rail lines with a combined length of 122 miles (196 km) will provide commuters with an alternative to the region's congested roads and highways. It expands on previous transportation projects, notably T-REX, and includes 57 new transit stations, 21,000 new parking spaces, 18 miles (29 km) of bus rapid transit service between Denver and Boulder and the renovation of Denver Union Station as a multi-modal transportation hub.
Originally envisioned to cost $4.7 billion and to be completed in 2017, voters in the eight counties that comprise the RTD approved a 0.4 percent sales tax increase in 2004. The 2008 global financial crisis caused a drop in revenues and material costs rose faster than forecast. By 2010 the budget ballooned to $6.5 billion while projected revenues dropped to $4.1 billion. Deciding not to put another tax increase on the 2010 or 2012 ballot, the completion date for the full expansion was pushed back to 2042. Despite the setbacks FasTracks has moved forward with a number of projects and has sought alternative funding to complete projects as quickly as possible.
The first of the six new lines envisioned in the plan, the West Corridor light rail line to Golden, Colorado, opened for revenue service on April 26, 2013. By mid-2014, construction was underway on the five other rail lines. Three of the commuter rail lines, the East Rail line to Denver International Airport, the Gold line to Arvada, and the portion of the Northwest Rail line to south Westminster, along with the I-225 Corridor light rail line through Aurora, are projected to open in 2016. In addition the North Metro Rail line to Thornton will open in 2018.
Denver Union Station underwent $200 million worth of facility improvements that turned it into the hub for new commuter and light rail lines as well as bus service in downtown Denver. The underground 22-bay bus concourse at Union Station opened May 11, 2014 while the restaurants, bars, and hotel officially opened July 26, 2014. The renovation has spurred development and economic expansion in the surrounding area with developers adding 3,500 residential units and 1.5 million square feet of office space to the immediate neighborhood. FasTracks is estimated to have injected $3 billion into the local economy from 2005 to 2013 and is responsible for creating 12,000 direct full-time jobs since 2005.
- 1 Progress
- 2 Project details
- 2.1 Eagle public-private partnership
- 2.2 I-225 Corridor (light rail)
- 2.3 North Metro Corridor (commuter rail)
- 2.4 Northwest Rail Corridor (commuter rail)
- 2.5 West Corridor (light rail)
- 2.6 US 36 Corridor (bus rapid transit)
- 2.7 Extensions (light rail)
- 3 Economic growth/development
- 4 Criticisms
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
FasTracks is being funded with federal appropriations, private contributions, and a region-wide sales tax increase. The project was allowed to begin when the sales tax portion of its funding was approved by Denver metro area voters in November 2004. The tax went into effect in January 2005.
In 2006, engineering design of the initial segment, the West Rail Line, was begun.
By spring of 2006, the EISs of all other proposed lines were underway. The municipal governments of Denver, Boulder, and Lakewood had launched detailed studies of community redevelopment possibilities around station locations. The cities of Westminster, Thornton, Aurora, Greenwood Village, Englewood, Sheridan, and Arvada are also planning transit oriented development areas around some of their proposed rail stations.
Central to the regional nature of the service package is Union Station. Special studies of its redevelopment and adaptation for multiple transport modes have been conducted and engineering design work and property development work was underway in 2006.
In May 2007, a $1.5 billion budget overrun was reported. Despite service and construction reductions, by January 2010 the budget had grown to $6.5 billion (a $1.8 billion overrun). Sales tax revenues are now projected to come in much less than originally anticipated to the point that the project is short $2.45 billion.
On April 13, 2010 the RTD board of directors decided to postpone asking voters to further increase the current sales tax until 2011 at the earliest. If the tax increase fails to be implemented, the full buildout of the FasTracks plan may not take place until 2042.
On 31 August 2011, US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that the US Department of Transportation had approved a $1 billion grant to the Eagle P3 project, which consists of the East and Gold commuter rail lines, covering half of the $2 billion cost of the construction of the two lines.
On April 26, 2013 the first completed segment of the FasTracks regional transit-expansion plan was opened to the public, the W Line.
|RTD Light Rail and Commuter Rail Expansion Map|
Eagle public-private partnership
The Eagle public–private partnership (P3) combines two commuter rail lines, the East line to DIA and the Gold line to Wheat Ridge, plus a section of the Northwest line up to Westminster, and a maintenance facility into a single contract. Denver Transit Partners, the consortium of companies RTD selected to lead the Eagle P3 project, is responsible for the design, construction, financing, operation and maintenance of the rail lines in the contract.
Construction broke ground on the Gold Line on August 26, 2010. In August 2011, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood committed $1 billion in federal money to the Eagle P3 project. In December LaHood approved a $280 million loan to advance construction. As of June 2013, the project is on track to open the rail lines under contract in 2016.
East Rail Line (commuter rail)
The East Rail Line is a 23.6-mile (38.0 km) commuter rail line between downtown Denver, Aurora, and Denver International Airport using Electric Multiple Unit commuter trains. To expedite travel time between downtown Denver and Denver International Airport, only six stations will be located on the line. Construction started in August 2010, and is expected to be completed in 2016. 
Gold Line (commuter rail)
The Gold Line is an 11.2-mile (18.0 km) commuter rail corridor that will run from Denver Union Station to Wheat Ridge, passing through Adams County and Arvada. As with the East Corridor, the RTD Board of Directors chose Electric Multiple Unit (EMU) commuter trains to run on the Gold Line. The line will have seven new stations-- with an already existing station at Union-- and is expected to open in 2016.
I-225 Corridor (light rail)
The I-225 Corridor will be a new 10.5-mile (16.9 km) light rail line running through Aurora and facilitate a circumferential link between the Southeast Corridor and the East Corridor. The project will include seven new stations and provide 1,800 new parking spaces. Construction began in the spring of 2012 on a short section of the line as part of a joint contract with CDOT. Following an unsolicited proposal from Kiewit Infrastructure Co. funding was secured for the full line which is expected to open in 2016.
North Metro Corridor (commuter rail)
The North Metro Corridor is a commuter rail line that is planned to run along an existing railroad right-of-way from Denver to 160th Avenue in Thornton. The line will have eight stations on its 18.4-mile (29.6 km) route. In 2009 RTD paid $117 million to purchase the right-of-way from Union Pacific in preparation for the build out of the North Metro line. However with the global recession of 2009, the North Metro Corridor became a victim of financial setbacks and it was feared that the line would not be built until 2044. RTD was able to avoid delaying the construction of the line when it accepted an unsolicited offer in 2013 to build out the full line in two stages. The first stage will build the line to the 124th Avenue Station with an opening in January 2018, while the second stage to 162nd Avenue Station will commence when projected ridership makes economic sense.
Northwest Rail Corridor (commuter rail)
The Northwest Rail Corridor is a commuter rail project between Denver, Boulder, and Longmont. The proposed 41-mile (66 km) line would have seven stations on a route that would follow an existing railroad right-of-way. The first segment of the line, extending from Denver Union Station to south Westminster, is under construction as part of the Eagle P3 project and is expected to open in 2016. The remaining segment, extending to downtown Longmont, will require additional funding in order to be completed prior to 2044. The announcement angered many voters in the cities and suburbs north of Denver who had approved a sales tax increase in 2004 to fund the FasTracks project.
The downturn in the economy and significant cost increases and delays associated with building and operating Northwest Rail led to the initiation of the year-long "Northwest Area Mobility Study". This was a collaborative effort with northwest area governments and transportation partners that set out to achieve consensus on a set of recommendations that could bring near-term mobility improvements to the northwest area. The study concluded in 2014 and made a number of recommendations that were adopted by the RTD Board of Directors in June 2014.
West Corridor (light rail)
Preliminary work on the West Corridor light rail line began on May 16, 2007. During early stages of development, it was decided that the line from the Federal Center to the Jefferson County Government Center will be reduced to a single track to help cut costs. According to RTD, this change would reduce train headways from 5 minutes to 15 minutes and make it easier for the line to run in the median of U.S. 6. Upon the completion of construction the line was designated the W Line. The 12.1 mile light rail line was opened to the public on April 26, 2013 and is the first completed segment of the FasTracks regional transit-expansion plan.
US 36 Corridor (bus rapid transit)
This will be an 18-mile (29 km) long express bus line running along US 36 between Denver and Boulder, Colorado with six stations planned along the route. A joint project between CDOT and RTD, the road will be widened by 40 feet in each direction which will allow the addition of a high-occupancy vehicle lane. The project will be completed in two phases with the first phase completed in May 2010. The second phase began construction on July 2012 and is projected to open to the public in 2016.
Extensions (light rail)
There are plans for extensions to existing light rail lines. Extensions approved by the FasTracks plan include a 2.5-mile (4.0 km) extension to the Southwest Corridor, extending the line to the southwest corner of Lucent Boulevard and C-470; a 2.3-mile (3.7 km) extension to the Southeast Corridor into Lone Tree; and a 0.8-mile (1.3 km) extension to the Central Corridor to connect the 30th & Downing station with the East Corridor commuter rail line at the intersection of 38th and Blake.
|This section requires expansion. (September 2012)|
According to RTD (2012), when new development occurs near stations, it increases the likelihood that residents and workers will choose transit as their transportation mode. This reduces the growth in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and auto trips on a constrained roadway system while, at the same time, accommodating new growth.
RTD has conducted a Quality of Life (QoL) study for the neighborhoods’ impacted by FasTracks with baseline data collection starting in 2006 and continuing bi-annually to the present. The QoL study tracks a number of economic and community development indicators.
Denver Union Station Design: The Regional Transportation District (RTD) and Denver Union Station Project Authority (DUSPA) has received significant criticism for the redevelopment of the Denver Union Station. Many public transportation advocates and planning experts maintain that the project precludes impending access of high-speed rail technology and north-south passenger rail routes such as Front Range Rail, is designed to present logistical complications for both rail and bus commuters, lacks integration of bicycle facilities and an intercity bus station, and is being modeled to perform as a stub-end terminal for current and future intercity rail routes. Many citizens and public transportation advocates have also expressed frustration with the high cost overruns associated with the project's design and the overrun's direct impact on the agency's ability to complete all rail lines that were a part of the original voter-approved FasTracks project proposal. In 2009 the Colorado Rail Passenger Association, a local rail transportation advocacy group, filed a lawsuit against the Federal Transportation Administration for its acceptance of DUSPA's Denver Union Station Environmental Impact Statement, which suspiciously omitted several impactful statements and comments that were contributed by the members of the community.
Impact on congestion claimed to be negligible: Anti-transit activist Randal O'Toole of the Cato Institute wrote a paper titled "The Full Truth About FasTracks" prior to the ballot measure passing in November 2004. This paper contains many criticisms including predictions that FasTracks will have a negligible impact on congestion in the Denver metropolitan region.
Eminent Domain: The Colorado Department of Transportation and the Regional Transportation District have used eminent domain to condemn properties in the path of transportation projects. While eminent domain, or the forcible, but market price compensated, taking of private property for a public good, is sometimes unavoidable, organizations such as the Colorado Property Rights Coalition and the Property Rights Project allege that government transit agencies have abused their condemnation powers in these ways:
Federal Station Relocation on the Gold Line: The Regional Transportation District (RTD), Adams County, and the Federal Transit Administration have also been criticised for a decision to relocate the Gold Line Federal Station from the east side to the west side of Federal. Critics maintain that RTD's decision to relocate the station to the less accessible west site, where parking is not as convenient and does not provide for expansion, was inappropriately influenced by proposed development on the west side.
However, supporters in surrounding neighborhoods and nearby Regis University backed the relocation because they regarded it as more accessible than the initial site on the east. Parking was just as convenient. Pedestrian and bike access was superior because the west site was directly accessed from the regional trail system. The west site was out of the flood plain and floodway of nearby Clear Creek, unlike the east site which was lower and on an undocumented landfill site that would RTD would have to spend up to an estimated $2 million to mitigate. And the proposed development was moving through the county’s public approval process with support from county commissioners.
The decision came after the final determination of preferred locations and completion of environmental studies and public comment processes. Critics maintain that the west site has not been properly studied for environmental or other impacts, and that the projects mismanagement will result in destruction of undisturbed ground in lieu of capitalizing on the opportunity to clean up previously improved lands. However, RTD showed that the west site was fully analyzed alongside the east during the environmental study in 2007-08, and had at least the same if not fewer impacts. Further, the west site was not "undisturbed ground" but in fact was raised fill on a previously used commercial business site.
Critics feel that the needs of the handicapped, elderly, and physically challenged are being neglected by moving the station. The distance one must travel from the proposed west side station is far greater than the distance one must travel on the planned and approved east side station. But RTD showed that the difference (570 feet vs. 450 feet from the nearest handicapped parking spot to the middle of the train platform) was 120 feet, comparable to many other stations in the system.
On December 15, 2010, RTD announced that the Federal Station would remain on the East Side of Federal and not be moved to the West Side. The Adams County Commissioners who had originally requested the change had withdrawn their support under pressure from residents of a subdivision near the west site who opposed the private developer’s plan to build higher-density housing and commercial buildings around the new station site.
- "General FasTracks Program - 2013 Fact Sheet". RTD. Retrieved June 20, 2013.
- Cathy Proctor (January 5, 2010). FasTracks costs have dropped, but so have funds for project, RTD says. Denver Business Journal. Retrieved June 20, 2013.
- Libby Smith (July 2, 2014). "Union Station Investment To Drive Development". Denver, CO: CBS4. Retrieved July 21, 2014.
- "FasTracks 2014 Fact Sheet". http://www.rtd-fastracks.com. Retrieved 3 July 2014.
- FasTracks' cost drop for 2010... Accessed 01/16/2010
- Leib, Jeffrey (April 14, 2010). "RTD decides not to seek FasTracks tax hike this year". Denver Post. Retrieved April 19, 2010.
- "USDOT provides $1 billion for Denver RTD's Eagle P3 commuter-rail project". Progressive Railroading. 1 September 2011. Retrieved 1 September 2011.
- "Eagle P3 Project". RTD. Retrieved June 20, 2013.
- "Eagle P3 Project Update". RTD. March 5, 2013. Retrieved June 20, 2013.
- "Eagle P3 Commuter Rail Project, Denver, USA". Railway Technology. Retrieved 1 September 2011.
- "2010-10-01". Retrieved 2010-10-05.
- "Fas Tracks". http://rtd-denver.com/Fastracks.shtml.
- "Fastracks Gold Line To Wheat Ridge Approved". The Denver Channel. 3 November 2009. Retrieved 3 September 2011.
- Monte Whaley (November 26, 2013). "Denver's northern suburbs welcome RTD rail line". The Denver Post. Retrieved December 12, 2013.
- Regional Transport District. "Northwest Corridor FAQ". Regional Transport District. Retrieved 22 April 2013.
- Whaley, Monte (08/10/2012). "RTD officials face legislative grilling over commuter rail delay". The Denver Post. Retrieved 22 April 2013.
- Whaley, Monte (02/04/2013). "RTD foots bill for study of northwest transit system, cities sign on". The Denver Post. Retrieved 22 April 2013.
- Jeffrey Wolf, Deborah Sherman (2007-05-18). "Transportation project more than a billion dollars over budget". 9news.com. Retrieved 2007-05-18.
- Aguilar, John (June 17, 2013). "U.S. 36 widening project shifts into higher gear". The Denver Post. Retrieved June 20, 2013.
- Regional Transportation District of Denver. (2012). 2010 FasTracks Quality of Life Detailed Report. 1-86.
-  Regional Transportation District. (2011). 2009 Quality of Life Study Now Available. Retrieved from http://www.rtd-fastracks.com/main_199
- ColoRail sues feds over Union Station plan
- The Full Truth About FasTracks
- Colorado Department of Transportation and the Regional Transportation District use of eminent domain
- The Human Cost of FasTracks
- Parts shop doomed as RTD asserts rights
- RTD FasTracks Derails an American Dream
- RTD won't move station planned for east side of Federal to west side
- Official Website, and map
- Light Rail advocacy group
- Colorado rail advocacy group with local links and documents.
- Union Station advocacy site
- DRCOG, a resource for FasTracks TOD plans, news and research.
- Transit Alliance, Coalition of local governments, business associations and citizen groups.