RTD thwarts owners’ plans

at former printing-plant site The transit agency has picked the location for a bus maintenance facility.

The new owners of the former Denver Post printing plant near the Mousetrap said RTD has iced their attempt to develop the 44-acre site by announcing its intention to build a bus maintenance operation there.

“We’re dead in the water,” said Ascendant Development president Graham Benes. “From a marketing perspective, everyone knows we’re in the sights of RTD.”

On Tuesday, Regional Transportation District planners told the transit agency’s board of directors that after assessing 25 possible locations for the 300-bus maintenance facility, they are recommending RTD acquire The Post’s former Fox Street plant and surrounding acreage.

Ascendant and its partners bought the site from the Denver Newspaper Agency this year for about $17.1 million.

“Seeing that RTD had the first opportunity to purchase this site directly from the Denver Newspaper Agency and passed, we find it unconscionable” that RTD “would proceed directly to a ‘taking’ of the property via eminent domain,” Ascendant said Wednesday.

The day before, RTD general manager Cal Marsella said the transit agency could acquire the Mousetrap property through a negotiated purchase or by eminent domain, in which case it would pay “fair market value.”

Marsella said the Ascendant property is the best site for the bus maintenance operation because it is zoned industrial and is close to downtown Denver and major roadways.

The transit agency also may be able to use the existing 320,000-square-foot building and not have to construct a new repair facility, which would save the agency millions of dollars.

Benes said Ascendant has had inquiries from companies interested in putting retail, wholesale, educational, technology and residential uses on the Mousetrap site, especially after a planned commuter-rail station is built in the area.

“It’s frustrating to be in this position where there is so much potential for the site and the neighborhood,” he said, referring to RTD’s alternative plan to maintain the area’s current industrial zoning.

In response, Marsella said, “The city needs to preserve certain areas as industrial.”

RTD considers former Post plant for new bus maintenance facility

By Kevin Flynn, Rocky Mountain News

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Already pinched by a tight schedule, RTD’s FasTracks program has to fit in an unexpected project – a new bus maintenance facility – and is eyeing the former Denver Post printing plant for it.

The 44-acre property at the intersection of Interstates 25 and 70 was vacated in September after the Denver Newspaper Agency consolidated printing operations at its plant in Adams County. It was acquired by Ascendant Capital Partners in February for $17.1 million.

RTD is in a bind to replace the 300-bus Platte Division at 31st Street and Ringsby Court, which became the site for FasTracks’ commuter rail maintenance facility this year.

While the $6.1 billion program always included a new 150-bus facility to accommodate expanded service, it wasn’t scheduled until after 2017. That one still is needed, and RTD is looking at two sites for it, both in Adams County.

The commuter rail yard initially was planned for Union Pacific Railroad’s 36th Street Yard. That fell through when RTD and UP couldn’t agree on a price for an assortment of railroad property that RTD wanted.

RTD then selected a site it already owned – the Platte Division. But the rail facility is so large that there will be no room left to keep the buses there.

The time problem for FasTracks is that the rail facility must open by mid-2013 to accommodate the scheduled start of rail transit to Denver International Airport and Arvada- Wheat Ridge, but work cannot start on it until RTD builds a replacement for the bus facility.

The 22.5-acre Platte Division houses all of the 16th Street Mall shuttles as well as regional and express buses for numerous RTD routes. RTD estimates it can build the new bus facility within its $74.9 million budget.

Dave Hollis, FasTracks project manager, told the RTD board Tuesday night that 25 sites were considered. Most were eliminated because of their distance from the mall. The alternative-fueled shuttles have a maximum cruising range of three miles.

Other sites were eliminated because of zoning conflicts. Ironically, that includes a site near Colfax Avenue on Quail Street in Lakewood that RTD acquired by eminent domain in 1980 specifically to build a bus maintenance facility on the west side of town. RTD never built it, however, and leased it out as a junkyard instead. It was recently rezoned for office and research facility development.

flynnk@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-954-5247

FasTracks price tag swells

RTD braces for another increase due next month

By Kevin Flynn

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


RTD is bracing for another increase in the FasTracks program cost to be released next month, based on the new budget for just one of the projects approved Tuesday night.

With the West Corridor light rail’s new budget approved for an increase of 11.5 percent by the RTD board, cost figures for the other nine FasTracks corridors and related projects in the $6.1 billion program are being recalculated to account for surging materials prices.

Don’t expect it to hold at $6.1 billion.

The increases come at a time when RTD is trying to hold together the financial plan that pays for it all – a plan that’s being undercut by sales tax collections coming in short of projections.

The RTD board also approved the start of work under two construction contracts for the West Corridor capped at $338.7 million and $62.6 million.

Even at that higher cost, the deal is buying less – $28 million less, to be precise. Rider and public amenities that had been part of the original project have been slashed, including fewer security cameras and phones, less landscaping, fewer railings and benches, simplified noise walls and a narrower bike path.

Since FasTracks went up from its original price tag of $4.7 billion to $6.1 billion in May 2007, there has been another year of hefty inflation in the construction industry – fueled by hikes in steel, concrete and oil. The Colorado Construction Cost Index, a measure of costs for transportation projects maintained by the Colorado Department of Transportation, increased 6.1 percent last year.

RTD’s annual recalculation of all FasTracks project budgets is expected to be released by mid- to late July and transit officials aren’t talking specific numbers yet.


Contracts capped

“It’s very early in terms of knowing where we’re going to be,” RTD spokesman Scott Reed said.

The West Corridor construction contracts help protect RTD from further increases in material costs on that job because they are structured as guaranteed maximum prices.

Denver Transit Construction Group, a joint venture between Herzog Contracting, of St. Joseph, Mo., and Stacey & Witbeck, of Alameda, Calif., will build the major portion of the system including the tracks, bridges, stations, crossings, drainage and grading. Its contract is $338.7 million. It includes an inflation hedge of $5 million more in case of cost increases but the contractor is responsible for any increase beyond that.

Balfour Beatty, an international rail contractor based in the United Kingdom, has a contract capped at $62.6 million to install the electrical system for the West Corridor, including overhead lines and power substations.

Some of the items trimmed from the scope, starting with the additional security cameras and phones, could be restored if the $40 million contingency fund remains in place toward the end.

But the major factors that fed the jump in the West Corridor line through Denver, Lakewood and Golden also affect the other projects – principally the continuing cost increase of materials, labor and rights of way.

If the same percentage increase were applied to the entire program, FasTracks’ costs could reach nearly $6.8 billion.


Unresolved right of way

With other FasTracks corridors still in preliminary design and environmental study, RTD is discovering unanticipated costs.

For example, planners on the FasTracks North Metro Corridor from Denver Union Station through Commerce City and Thornton completed a noise analysis this year indicating they will have to include more than 10 miles of noise-blocking walls along the Union Pacific freight tracks that they plan to use for diesel-powered commuter trains.

Originally, the North Metro Corridor was budgeted for only about eight miles of noise walls.

That cost increase, from $12.7 million to $16.5 million, has yet to be reflected in the North Metro Corridor’s $637.2 million share of the overall FasTracks budget. Two years ago, North Metro’s estimated cost was $420 million.

And RTD’s failure to reach agreement with the Union Pacific railroad to use some of the existing track right of way close to Union Station has the agency looking into alternate alignments for four corridors – including the East Corridor to Denver International Airport.

While those new routes should cost less than what UP was asking for its land, they still could cost more than RTD had originally budgeted for right of way.


Going up!

The Regional Transportation District board approved a higher budget for the West Corridor light rail line through Denver, Lakewood and Golden, locked in contract prices and authorized start of work under two construction deals.

11.5 percent budget increase would take the project from $634.7 million to $707.6 million.

$338.7 million is the contract figure with Denver Transit Construction Group. A $62.6 million contract is with Balfour Beatty. They are so-called Guaranteed Maximum Price deals, under which the contractors bear the responsibility for future cost increases.

* The only exception is that RTD has agreed to provide up to $5 million to cover some increases in construction material costs that Denver Transit Construction Group might encounter.

© Rocky Mountain News

Cost of light rail spikes again

By Jeffrey Leib
The Denver Post

The cost of the light-rail line to Lakewood and Golden has jumped to $707.6 million from $634.7 million just a year ago, RTD officials said Tuesday night.

The increase is largely caused by a nearly $80 million escalation in construction labor and material costs and is leading the Regional Transportation District to further cut amenities along the line.

The west corridor train and other FasTracks routes have seen steady cost increases since they were approved by voters in 2004. Last year, RTD said the price of the west line had grown from an initial estimate of $511.8 million to $634.7 million. The new figure of $707.6 million includes myriad other adjustments.

In a briefing to RTD board members, agency planners said that since the west corridor budget was updated a year ago, “there have been additional dramatic cost spikes to the construction industry for steel, concrete, copper, labor and fuel that are affecting bid prices for major construction projects worldwide and creating a challenging cost climate.”

To compensate for the latest hike in construction costs, RTD plans “strategic deferments,” including delaying installation of security cameras and emergency phones at stations, “simplifying” station canopies and windscreens, reducing station furnishings and landscaping, and delaying construction of a pedestrian bridge over West Sixth Avenue near Red Rocks Community College.

The agency also will narrow the width of a bike path that will parallel the west rail line, to 10 feet from 12 feet. Such a move will reduce the amount of private property RTD will need to acquire along the corridor, officials said.

“We’re managing,” said agency general manager Cal Marsella, about RTD’s ongoing evaluation of FasTracks costs and adjustments to the budgets of individual rail lines.

FasTracks is the nation’s largest transit expansion program, one that metro Denver voters backed in 2004 when they approved an additional 0.4 percent sales tax to build the project. The increase was on top of the 0.6 percent sales tax that RTD relies on to run the bulk of its existing transit system.

The 12.1-mile west rail line is scheduled for completion by the end of 2012.

Earlier cost-savings measures on the west line included reducing track capacity and train frequencies between the Federal Center station in Lakewood and the end-of-line station at the Jefferson County government center in Golden.

Last year, RTD put the cost of the entire FasTracks project at $6.1 billion, up from $4.7 billion in 2004.

The agency now is reviewing cost estimates for all of the FasTracks trains, which include lines to Arvada/Wheat Ridge, Boulder/Longmont, north Adams County and Denver International Airport, as well as a light-rail extension in the Interstate 225 corridor from South Parker Road to a point near Interstate 70.

RTD’s current plans call for the entire FasTracks project to be completed by 2016.

Jeffrey Leib: 303-954-1645 or jleib@denverpost.com

Lakewood sure has arrived

In its designs for a light-rail station, one city sees an opportunity for riders to sit up and notice that

By Ann Schrader
The Denver Post

LAKEWOOD — Plain vanilla doesn’t cut it for Lakewood, which has an ice-cream-sundae vision for the Wadsworth Boulevard light-rail station.

Oak Street — the next station to the west on the 12.1-mile West Corridor line — also would get a few extra dollops of design in plans discussed last week by the City Council.

And Lakewood officials are willing to pay — an estimated $2.8 million — for what they call “betterments” to RTD’s standard light-rail designs.

They want riders of the Denver-to-Golden train to know they’ve arrived in Lakewood.

Lakewood also sees the Wadsworth station — with a crystalline canopy that flows like clouds across the platform — as a statement that the state’s fourth-largest city has arrived.

“It is very, very innovative,” said Councilman Ed Peterson. “It is a signature piece. . . . It gives a sense of place.”

At 400 feet in length, the Wadsworth station will straddle the road when the line opens in 2013. Passengers will board and depart trains 25 feet above the street, where 50,000 vehicles pass each day.

“I see this as a gateway to Lakewood,” said Al Colussy, whose Klipp architectural firm came up with the concept. “It is sculpted and has an artistic quality as well as a functional one.”

The price tag: about $2.6 million in urban renewal funds.

About $135,000 in upgrades to Oak Street’s pedestrian plaza will include raised planters, a rock seating wall, grass- inlaid resin wind screens and a shelter with a stainless- steel, fanlike roof.

City officials say the improvements are worth the investment as a focus for economic development.

“We think this is smart business all the way around,” said Lakewood City Manager Mike Rock. “This simply recognizes that this is a long-term investment on the part of the community and decisions we make today will live for the next 50 to 100 years.”

The Regional Transportation District’s designs are based on “themes from the community — the old Inter-urban trolley line and the Craftsman-type homes along the line,” said spokeswoman Brenda Tierney.

“Our stations are pretty standard, and communities like to do things we wouldn’t normally do, especially in these tough budget times,” Tierney said.

Greenwood Village Mayor Nancy Sharpe said light-rail area investment is worth it to develop community pride and economic opportunities.

Greenwood freed up land for development by spending $6 million to move the parking garage at the southeast line’s Arapahoe station.

The city added brick and stone work to the Arapahoe station, which Sharpe said “improves the appearance and does make a statement.”

Arvada has begun station planning for the Gold Line, which will open in 2015.

“It’s too early to tell what we might do above and beyond what RTD might plan,” said Arvada senior planner Kevin Nichols. “We do have a few ideas for Olde Town where the station could blend in with the historic fabric of the area a little bit better.”

Ann Schrader: 303-278-3217 or aschrader@denverpost.com



Reward rather than award given to RTD

Honored for politics
Independence Institute, Colorado Libertarian Think Tank
Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Recently, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) named Denver’s RTD the best transit agency in America. RTD is to be congratulated for receiving this award, but I have to ask, just what criteria did APTA use to bestow this honor?

Was it RTD’s ability to attract transit riders and fill up its buses and light rail cars? According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, in 2006 the average RTD light rail car had just 13.5 riders on board (compared with a national average of 26), while the average RTD bus had just 10 riders (compared with a national average of 11).

Empty cars

RTD’s light rail cars have room for about 140 passengers, which means they are, on average, less than 10 percent full. That’s less than a single-occupancy Chevy Suburban. So that can’t be why APTA gave RTD its award.

Was it RTD’s ability to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions? In 2006, RTD’s light rail used as much energy and emitted 15 percent more greenhouse gases, per passenger mile, than the average SUV. RTD’s buses were worse than the average automobile. So getting people out of their cars and onto RTD actually hastens global warming.

Commuter share down

Not that RTD has been getting people out of their cars. Back in the early 1980s, before RTD started planning light rail lines, it was carrying all of 1.5 percent of passenger travel in the Denver-Boulder region. In 2006, after opening two major light rail lines, RTD’s share of passenger travel was down to 1.4 percent.

What about commuters? The Census Bureau says that, in 1980, RTD carried 6.4 percent of the region’s commuters to work. By 2006 it was down to 5.1 percent.

Perhaps APTA was commending RTD for its ability to save taxpayers’ money. Except that RTD’s southwest and T-Rex light rail lines both had cost overruns, when compared with their original projections, of close to 50 percent. The FasTracks project, which was originally supposed to cost $4.7 billion, is now expected to cost at least $6.2 billion. So that can’t be it, either.

Maybe APTA appreciated RTD’s ability to respond to a crisis, such as today’s high fuel prices. But RTD’s response to those prices has been to propose cutting transit services and raising fares. When RTD is planning to spend billions to build rail lines that won’t be operational for six or seven years, it can’t be distracted with today’s travel concerns.

No-bid contract

What else could RTD have done to attract APTA’s attention? Last year, RTD gave Siemens Engineering, one of APTA’s largest members, a no-bid contract for $187 million worth of light rail cars. By an amazing coincidence, Siemens gave the FasTracks political campaign donations of more than $100,000 in 2004.

The biggest beneficiaries of the multi-billion-dollar FasTracks project are railcar manufacturers like Siemens, contractors such as Kiewit (which gave the campaign $55,000), and consulting firms like Parsons-Brinckerhoff (which gave the FasTracks campaign more than $70,000) and CH2MHill (which gave the campaign $59,000). By another amazing coincidence, these companies are all members of APTA.

Getting rich

In short, APTA is not rewarding RTD for running an efficient operation, being environmentally friendly, or reducing traffic congestion. Instead, APTA loves RTD because RTD is making APTA’s members rich.

Good job, RTD!

Randal O’Toole (rot@cato.org) is a senior fellow with the Cato Institute and director of the Independence Institute’s Center for the American Dream.

The Independence Institute is a Colorado libertarian think tank. It provides a weekly column for the Denver Daily News.

Respond to this column at editor@thedenverdailynews.com.

Win some, lose some

Denver able to sway statehouse on key issues

Carol Boigon, Denver City Councilwoman

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

During the 120-day state legislative session, laws are proposed that can greatly affect Denver residents. 

As chairperson of City Council’s General Government Committee, I oversee a process for reviewing proposed legislation, and, with the mayor’s office and the committee, I direct the city lobbyists to support Denver’s interests. 

Key issues in the 2008 session were: 

Art Galleries: House Bill 1105 permitted art galleries to serve alcohol under certain conditions. 

While some parts of Denver consider art shows and art walks with “tastings” to be an important part of their community, I wanted to be sure that “art gallery” was tightly defined so that liquor stores could not use this as a loophole for any tastings. 

This bill passed with Denver’s definition. 

Transit-Oriented Development: House Bill 1278 would have interfered with Denver’s ability to develop around new transit stops created by the FasTracks project. 

While Denver hopes to develop positive, active communities in the immediate areas around transit stops, HB 1278 could have limited development only to parking. 

The adverse impact was defeated. 

Prompt Pay: House Bill 1306 allowed contractors to walk off of city projects if they had a payment dispute. 

Denver already has a prompt pay ordinance. 

As a result, 100 percent of contractor invoices, if services complied with city laws, were paid within eight days. 

The proposed state bill attempted to override Denver law and impact our public projects. 

We successfully lobbied against this bill.  

Denver Public Schools retirement plan: House Bill 1403 would allow the DPS retirement plan to merge with the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA). 

An estimated $800 per student is currently paid toward pension and retiree obligations. 

If the DPS retirement plan merges with PERA, DPS can greatly cut costs and increase funds for education. 

We supported this effort.

Funds to identify and repair unsafe schools: Some Colorado schools are nearly 100 years old and have structurally dangerous conditions. 

I strongly supported House Bill 1335 to raise about $1 billion over 20 years to upgrade Colorado school buildings. 

Our children need to be in a safe environment when they go to school. 

I am pleased that this bill passed.


Among many victories in the session, there were some disappointments. 

The Legislature did not adequately resolve issues on the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) or funding for K-12 education and higher education. 

These challenges remain for us. 

For comments or questions, contact Boigonatlarge@ci.denver.co.us.

Carol Boigon is a Denver City Councilwoman at-large. 
Respond to this column at editor@thedenverdailynews.com.