RTD pick of Northwest options today follows board trip to Washington, D.C.

The RTD Board FasTracks monitoring committee will announce its pick of the three options for the Northwest Rail Line at 5:30 p.m. today, with a final board vote on March 27. You can watch the announcement live -- as well as public comment that promises to be lively, since all the options would require a tax hike.

At least boardmembers have the benefit of perspective: Twelve of them recently returned from the American Public Transportation Association Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C. March 11 through March 13, when they paid calls on congressional offices -- many of them bereft of actual congresspeople at the time. Which has one critic wondering: "Can't RTD meet with congressional staff anytime? What message does this send regarding fiscal responsibility? Shouldn't they be in town talking to stakeholders and building consensus on an acceptable plan for our rail?"

Here's the official answer from RTD:

There were 12 Board members who attended the APTA Legislative Conference last week. In addition to attending the educational conference sessions, Board members did make visits to the Colorado Congressional Delegation offices (listed below.) This is encouraged by APTA as a part of the annual Conference.

The following RTD Board members attended the APTA Legislative Conference in Washington, DC:

Lorraine Anderson
Kent Bagley
Matt Cohen
Bruce Daly
Barbara Deadwyler
Larry Hoy
Lee Kemp
Angie Malpiede
Jack O'Boyle
John Tayer
Tom Tobiassen
Jeff Walker

In addition to attending the conference, the following Congressional offices were visited:

Jonathan Asher of Congressman Jared Polis' office
Stephen Beck of Congressman Mike Coffman's office
Senator Mark Udall and Alex Harman
Aaron Greco of Congressman Ed Perlmutter's office
Joe Williamson of Congressman Corey Gardner's office
Eleanor Bastian of Congresswoman Diana DeGette's office
Jonathan Davidson and Phillip Clelland of Senator Michael Bennet's office

At least on those long plane flights boardmembers had time to look at the options for finishing the Northwest Rail Line -- all of them assuming a "successful sales tax election" in November 2012. The three RTD options:


Complete the Northwest Rail Line as planned and extend the completion date from 2020 to 2024. Given significant cost increases associated with building and operating the commuter rail line in the Northwest Corridor-from $894.6 million to $1.7 billion following recent information from the BNSF Railway-the previous project completion date of 2020 is unachievable. The Northwest Rail Line is part of what voters approved in 2004 and is the most defined of the options.


Complete the Northwest Rail Line as planned and extend the completion date from 2020 to 2024. This option would accelerate construction of several new RTD park-n-Rides and provide interim bus service to them. It also increases bus service on US 36 and to/from other key destinations in the Northwest Corridor. Once the commuter rail is complete, the interim bus service will be rerouted to feed riders to/from the transit stations. This option postpones the completion of six other FasTracks projects by approximately six months each.


Replace the Northwest Rail Line with an expanded and enhanced Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. The Northwest BRT would operate in high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes along US 36 and SH 119 and with transit priority on non-freeway routes. Transit priority measures include enhancements such as off-board fare collection, signal priority, and bus bypass lanes at intersections. Similar to the rail stations, Bus Rapid Transit stations would be constructed at key points along each route, complete with parking and station branding identifying the BRT system. RTD would commit the remaining Northwest Rail project funds-capped at $894.6 million-to the BRT system.

While RTD debates the Northwest Line, construction of the multi-modal project around Union Station has picked up speed -- and picked off parking lots. Read about it in our post "Union Station parking disappears: Lots of luck parking your car in LoDo in 2012!"

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Robert Chase
Robert Chase

The fact sheet provided by RTD does not address the issue of off-board fare collection, i.e. the staging of passengers ready to board buses without delay, which can significantly improve transit times.  To do this effectively, elevated enclosed waiting areas must be built at all stops so that passengers who have paid their fare can proceed onto buses immediately.  There are certainly some significant capital costs in developing effecting Bus Rapid Transit, including pre-boarding and automated fare collection -- the prehistoric fare boxes now in use on RTD buses must go.

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