April 4, 2013 By Ryan Holeywell
The Denver region will start running trains this month on a new 12.1-mile light rail line, marking the launch of the first project of its ambitious “FasTracks” program that will eventually add 122 new miles of commuter and light rail service in and around the Mile High City.
The new West Rail Line, which cost $707 million to build, connects Denver to its western suburbs of Lakewood and Golden. The undertaking included construction of 11 new stations, 13 bridges and two tunnels. The West Rail Line was completed eight months ahead of schedule, and transit officials began testing trains on it earlier this year. Construction began in 2009 after the regional transit agency secured an agreement from the Federal Transit Administration to fund $308 million of the project.
Diane Barrett, chief projects officer in the mayor’s office, says the line -- along with other FasTracks projects -- is a key component of the city's long-term transportation plans. In 2004, voters approved a 0.4 percent sales tax to fund the $4.7 billion plan (the estimated cost has since escalated to $7.4 billion). In addition to the soon-to-open West Rail Line, the work includes another new light rail line, three light rail extensions, an 18-mile Bus Rapid Transit route, and four new commuter rail lines to be complete by 2024.
Officials have also touted FasTracks as a way to reduce pollution, sprawl and congestion; and Barrett believes it will play a key role in shaping the character of Denver's neighborhoods.
“The transit-oriented development opportunities are just vast," Barrett says. “[W]e have these opportunities to create real, livable places around stations where people don’t have to have cars. They can go to jobs and get an education without having to spend a quarter of their income on transportation. That’s huge."