AURORA | When Aurora’s Interstate 225 FasTracks light-rail project is built out, transportation officials envision a mix of new housing, businesses and shops around the eight light-rail stations that will snake through the city.
It will be up to developers to construct those multi-use projects around Transit Oriented Developments, and the news that Aurora’s FasTracks light-rail project could be complete in four years has them giddy.
Kiewit Infrastructure Co. won the recommendation from Regional Transportation District staff members on July 3, and RTD board members will decide whether to officially award them the contract on July 24. The design-build proposal for the entire I-225 light-rail line has a price tag of about $350 million.
The announcement is serving as a catalyst for talks among developers about how to build TOD projects around the planned light-rail stations in Aurora.
“It’s fabulous news,” said Michael Sheldon, a developer and owner of Greenwood Village-based Michael A. Sheldon & Associates. “This may be the impetus to work on plans that will allow Aurora to achieve its potential, including the possibility of creating a downtown area.”
That downtown area is the Aurora City Center, envisioned in Aurora’s master plan as the metropolitan center of the city, bounded by Sable Boulevard on the west, Alameda Avenue on the north, South Chambers Road on the east, and Exposition Avenue on the south.
Aurora would finally claim a downtown area with the development of a TOD around the Aurora City Center Station, Sheldon said. He said his firm represents a client who owns some land in that area.
“That client has been waiting for years to get the nod that the train is actually coming,” Sheldon said. “We believe there will be planning efforts that ought to result in concrete proposals in the near term.”
The I-225 light-rail line will include eight stations to be constructed along the east side of the highway. The corridor is a total of 10.5 miles long.
Stations along the corridor are: the existing Nine Mile station, the Iliff station, which is currently under construction, the Florida station, the Aurora City Center Station, the Second Avenue and Abilene Station, the 13th Avenue Station, the Colfax Station, the Montview Station, and the Peoria/Smith Station, which will connect to the East Rail Line that will run between Denver Union Station and Denver International Airport. About 1,800 new parking spaces will be constructed, although the Florida, Colfax and Montview stations won’t have parking.
Transit Oriented Development plans were adopted by the city in 2009 and 2010 for all of the stations except for the Aurora City Center and Montview stations, which were already designed in the city’s master plan.
Each design plan calls for different developments to complement the commercial and residential projects associated with TODs. For example, the Iliff Station area plan calls for a central park, the Florida Station plan identifies a high-density housing district south of Florida Avenue, and the Peoria/Smith Station plan includes the design for a series of public parks between the existing Sand Creek Regional Greenway and the station.
The whole point of the TODs, or station area plans, is to have a host of various opportunities for pedestrians and light-rail users in a dense area, said Mac Callison, the city’s transportation planning supervisor.
“Your need to travel on freeways, surface streets or arterials is reduced or eliminated when you have a significant rail facility linking those origins,” Callison said.
He envisions a person living near a station, getting to their place of employment via light-rail, and then taking the light-rail to another station to get any necessary shopping done.
“I think a key feature of TODs or station-oriented communities is that they’re walkable, they’re memorable, they’re unique places, and they have a lot of different uses and activities going on,” he said.
A good example of an existing TOD along a light-rail station is the Vallagio at Inverness development near the Dry Creek Station, said Patrick McLaughlin, Transit Oriented Development associate for RTD.
The Vallagio offers residential housing in the form of lofts, flats, row homes, golf villas and a variety of restaurants and shops like the Street Kitchen Asian Bistro, Marco’s Coal Fired Pizzeria and Amore Vino.
Having mixed-use developments along light-rail lines create “destinations” for riders, McLaughlin said.
“Adding different uses allows people to have an area where they can live in, walk, and not be totally dependent on their car,” McLaughlin said. “On the flip side, you’re creating that destination where people from other parts of the network can get there, too.”
RTD estimates that there will be more than 760 new residential units at TOD areas along the I-225 rail line, more than 160 new hotel rooms, more than 265,000 square feet of retail space, more than 127,900 square feet of office space, and more than 4 million square feet of new medical space.
Transportation officials like RTD board member Tom Tobiassen, whose district covers Aurora, are excited for the potential Class A office space that is going to be created in the TOD areas.
The lack of Class A office space near an existing light-rail line is one of the reasons why the engineering and architectural firm Merrick & Co. is moving out of the city, Tobiassen said.
“We can put Class A office space around these light-rail stations and attract companies that will bring new jobs and high-paying jobs to some of these stations,” Tobiassen said. “The opportunities are unlimited if we do it smart.”
But the construction of retail, office and residential spaces that make up a TOD area is up to developers to initiate.
“It will be up to property owners to find developers and financing to put designs together and go through the city approval process,” Tobiassen said.
Reach reporter Sara Castellanos at 720-449-9036 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
I-225 light-rail plan calls for build out without additional tax hikes
The remainder of Aurora’s I-225 light-rail project could be open to the public, without additional taxpayer money, by 2016 if RTD board members award the construction project to Kiewit Infrastructure Co. at the end of July.
Kiewit won the recommendation from Regional Transportation District staff members at an RTD meeting Tuesday evening, over a competing bid submitted by the Balfour Beatty Ames Joint Venture construction firm.
RTD board members are expected to meet on July 24 to make an official decision on whether the construction contract should be awarded to Kiewit.
Kiewit estimates that it would cost about $350 million to construct the remainder of the 10.5 mile-long light-rail line from the East Iliff Avenue station to the Peoria Street and Smith Road station.
RTD officials estimate they’d incur another $200 million in costs to design elements like right-of-way plans. That’s still less than RTD’s original estimates of the entire light rail line, which amounted to about $538 million.
RTD General Manager Phil Washington said there is money in RTD’s coffers to pay for the Kiewit project. RTD plans to pay for it by issuing between $350 million and $500 million in bonds to be repaid through sales-tax revenue generated from the 2004 voter-approved sales tax increase.
Since RTD received a $280 million federal loan in December for the Eagle P3 project, which will help build out the East Corridor and Gold Line, enough cash could be available for the entire Aurora rail line, Washington said.
Also, RTD can now afford to pay for Aurora’s light-rail project because this year’s revenue projections from the sales tax increase that voters approved in 2004 will be higher than RTD’s original projections for this year, he said.
The Kiewit team also includes Mass. Electric Construction Co., AECOM, and RBC Capital Markets, which would help finance the project.
Reach reporter Sara Castellanos at 720-449-9036 or email@example.com.