We can hear the train a comin’.
As if by magic, Aurora has gone from sitting at the bottom of the list of communities to finally —finally — get meaningful commuter rail service, to finding out that the I-225 FasTracks light-rail plan is back on track, and ahead of schedule.
Just weeks ago, we were scolding Regional Transportation District directors because they continue to shy away from asking metro area voters for the money needed to get the area’s ambitious light-rail system built as promised back in 2004. For years, Aurora’s portion of the rail system along I-225 kept getting pushed back further and further as the economic outlook of the project looked bleaker and bleaker. At one point, it looked as if it might be decades before a light-rail line between Nine Mile Station and Fitzsimons might be completed.
While the rail line would be important for all of Aurora, providing a badly needed way to get toward Downtown Denver, a way to move tens of thousands of patients and employees on and off of the already congested Fitzsimons hospital and research area will soon be critical.
When voters approved the FasTracks project in 2004, the line was completely funded, as were a host of other light-rail projects in the metro area. The problem is that FasTracks ran out of money after officials decided light-rail lines running west to Jefferson County were more important to the metro area than was a line connecting south metro Denver and central Denver to the burgeoning Fitzsimons campus. That campus is home to Colorado University Hospital, the Anschutz Medical Campus, Children’s Hospital, a new, soon-to-be-built, massive Veterans Administration hospital, University of Colorado Medical School, a bevy of bioscience research firms and facilities and numerous large research and medical centers, just to name some of the biggest draws to the area. There are many tens of thousands of people every day traveling to and from the campus, almost entirely in individual cars. Colfax Avenue, Peoria Street and I-225 are woefully unable to carry this kind of traffic. The center desperately needs light rail and other mass transit projects to make the burgeoning campus workable.
Despite the wrongheaded criticisms of naysayers, calling this rail system a “luxury,” commuter rail service across this region is instead a priority for regional transportation officials.
Now, RTD is looking at a proposal that would get the trains running across Aurora in just four years, not require another tax hike, and not bankrupt an already planned part of the rail system. RTD directors are compelled to approve the design-build contract with Kiewit construction company at their July 24 meeting.
It doesn’t mean that lucky Aurora residents can now forget about the quandary that RTD has found itself in. Still unfunded are critically needed lines between Boulder and Denver, as well as lines through northern suburbs such as Westminster, Thornton and Northglenn. Sadly, when it comes time to ask area voters for more money to complete the area’s light-rail system, Aurora voters join the group here that can say, “we got ours,” why raise taxes?
RTD officials should still move ahead with asking for what’s necessary to build out FasTracks as planned, and realize that it will take a concerted effort led by the area business community to get the money needed to complete this important transportation and economic development keystone.