John Elias

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The Regional Transportation District (RTD) provides transit service to the Denver, Colorado metropolitan area of 2,337 square miles with 140 bus routes, 10,000 bus stops and 47 miles of light rail over five rail lines. In November 2004, the region passed a sales tax initiative to implement the FasTracks program, a massive, multimodal transit expansion featuring 122 miles of commuter and light rail on six corridors, 18 miles of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), more than 20,000 new parking spaces and the redevelopment of historic Denver Union Station (DUS) as a transit hub for the region.

RTD completed the planning and environmental work for the 12.1 mile West Light Rail Line linking Golden and Lakewood, Colorado with Union Station in downtown Denver prior to the 2004 FasTracks vote and that corridor became the first to enter design. As design progressed, RTD saw both community expectations and materials costs begin to rise just as sales tax revenues fell. When RTD received the initial Guaranteed Maximum Price from the construction contractor it was clear the project would require major changes in order to stay on time and on budget. To address cost concerns, RTD and a team of technical experts from outside the agency reviewed the design to identify areas where effectiveness could be improved or potential cost savings could be significant. Once identified, RTD’s cost containment and value engineering recommendations needed a concerted outreach effort to develop community support for the changes. Additionally, the West line’s alignment through residential neighborhoods differs from any previous RTD corridor. A concerted public involvement process was necessary to address residents’ concerns about noise, safety, property values and the continued connectivity of their neighborhoods.

The West Rail Line opened in April 2013 on budget and ahead of schedule. The cost containment process, effective community relations and extensive efforts to align the construction project with the strategic goals of the agency have provided useful “lessons learned.”

These lessons benefit construction efforts on the other FasTracks corridors and RTD’s experience and techniques may interest other transit agencies pursuing major capital investments in transportation.

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