Denver, Colorado/Southeast Corridor LRT

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Southeast Corridor LRT

Denver, CO

(November 1999)

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Description

The Regional Transportation District (RTD) and Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) are proposing the Southeast Corridor project, a 19.0-mile light rail transit (LRT) system extending from the existing LRT station at I-25 and Broadway in Denver along I-25 to Lincoln Avenue and I-25 in Douglas County, with a LRT spur line along I-225 to Parker Road in Arapahoe County. The double track system is proposed to operate on an exclusive, grade-separated right-of-way and connect with the existing 5.3-mile Central Corridor light rail line in downtown Denver at the existing Broadway station. At I-25 and Broadway, the Southeast Corridor would also connect with RTD’s Southwest Corridor light rail line that is currently under construction.

The capital cost estimate of the fixed-guideway element is $882.5 million in escalated dollars, including right-of-way acquisition, final design, construction, and acquisition of rolling stock. Annual operating costs in 2020 are estimated at $35.3 million. Ridership is estimated at 38,100 average weekday boardings, 12,900 of which are new riders.

Summary Description

Proposed Project:

Light rail line

19.0 miles, 14 stations

Total Capital Cost ($YOE):

Section 5309 Share ($YOE):

$882.5 million

$525.0 million

Annual Operating Cost ($YOE):

$35.3 million

Ridership Forecast (2020):

38,100 avg. weekday boardings

12,900 daily new riders

FY 2001 Financial Rating:

FY 2001 Project Justification Rating:

FY 2001 Overall Project Rating:

Medium-High

Medium

Recommended

The Recommended rating is based on the project’s adequate justification criteria and solid capital and operating plan. The overall project rating applies to this Annual New Starts Report and reflects conditions as of November 1999. Project evaluation is an ongoing process. As new starts projects proceed through development, the estimates of costs, benefits, and impacts are refined. The FTA ratings and recommendations will be updated annually to reflect new information, changing conditions, and refined financing plans.

 

Status

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), in cooperation with the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) and the RTD, completed a Major Investment Study on the corridor in July 1997. The MIS resulted in the selection of a multimodal package of highway

and rail improvements. The DRCOG Board has included the LRT locally preferred alternative in the 2020 Long Range Regional Transportation Plan. Preliminary engineering and environmental work were initiated in the spring of 1998. A Draft Environmental Impact Statement was issued in August 1999. A Final Environmental Impact Statement is expected to be issued in December, 1999 and a Record of Decision is expected in early 2000. Opening day is anticipated for 2007.

A combination of Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and State funds are being utilized to fund Preliminary Engineering (PE). In November 1999 voters approved a local referendum that authorizes RTD to incur debt using low interest rate commercial paper and sales tax revenue bonds for the purposes of constructing the Southeast Corridor LRT. The referendum also extended RTD’s current partial exemption from State revenue retention restrictions.

TEA-21 Section 3030(a)(23) authorized the Denver Southeast LRT for final design and construction. Through FY 2000, Congress has appropriated $3.44 million in Section 5309 New Starts funds for this proposed project.

Evaluation

The following criteria have been estimated in conformance with FTA’s Technical Guidance on Section 5309 New Starts Criteria. N/A indicates that data are not available for this specific measure.

FTA has evaluated this project as being in preliminary engineering. The project will be re-evaluated when it is ready to advance to final design, and for next year’s Annual Report on New Starts.

Justification

The Medium justification rating reflects the project’s generally adequate project justification criteria, although it acknowledges a relatively weak project cost-effectiveness.

Mobility Improvements

Rating: Medium

The 19.0-mile project is expected to serve 38,100 average weekday boardings and 12,900 daily new riders in 2020. RTD estimates the following annual travel time savings for the Southeast line.

 

Mobility Improvements

New Start vs.

No-Build

New Start vs. TSM

Annual Travel Time Savings (Hours)

4.0 million

3.4 million

Based on 1990 data, there are 1,906 low-income households within ½ mile of the 13 proposed (and one existing) stations, representing 15 percent of total households served within ½ mile of the stations.

Environmental Benefits

Rating: Medium

Denver is currently classified a "transitional" non-attainment area for ozone, a "serious" non-attainment area for carbon monoxide, and a "moderate" non-attainment area for PM-10. Denver is in attainment for NOx. RTD estimates the following emissions reductions in pollutant emissions.

 

Criteria Pollutant

New Start vs.

No-Build

New Start vs. TSM

Carbon Monoxide (CO)

276

231

Nitrogen Oxide (NOx)

52

57

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)

43

40

Particulate Matter (PM10)

3

3

Carbon Dioxide (CO2)

5,177

7,905

Values reflect annual tons of emissions reductions.

RTD estimates the following savings in regional energy consumption (measured in British Thermal Units–BTU) will occur.

 

Annual Energy Savings

New Start vs.

No-Build

New Start vs. TSM

BTU (million)

2,340

43,288

Values reflect annual BTU reductions.

Operating Efficiencies

Rating: Medium

RTD estimates the following operating costs per passenger mile.

 

No-Build

TSM

New Start

System Operating Cost per Passenger Mile (1997)

$0.37

$0.39

$0.37

Values reflect 2020 ridership forecast and 1997 dollars.

Cost Effectiveness

Rating: Low-Medium

RTD estimates the following cost effectiveness indices:

 

 

New Start vs.

No-Build

New Start vs.

TSM

Incremental Cost per Incremental Passenger

$18.40

$14.80

Values reflect 2020 ridership forecast and 1997 dollars.

Transit-Supportive Existing Land Use and Future Patterns

Rating: Medium

The Medium land use rating reflects both the existing and relatively dense land uses and strong transit supportive policies within Denver and the generally less dense development and weaker policies outside of the City.

Existing Conditions: The corridor generally parallels Interstate 25. High density commercial and office space constitute the central business district. Moving southward towards the proposed University Station, the University of Denver and medium density housing surround the station area. Low density residential and commercial space characterize the southern half of the corridor, with some moderate density office development. Downtown Denver, to which this corridor connects, contains a dense concentration of over 102,000 jobs. Although 79,000 jobs are scattered throughout the remainder of the corridor, outside of the Denver Technological Center there is no significant concentration of employment.

The proposed corridor would connect downtown to the Denver Technological Center, which is part of the Southeast Business District. Parking appears plentiful and is generally developed as large lots outside of the CBD. Zoning in the corridor is moderately supportive of transit, with the more supportive policies existing in Denver and less supportive outside of the City. Zoning is in place at all but one of the Denver station areas to implement the "Transit Station Development Program" that requires sidewalks, landscaping, and transit-friendly site design, mixed-use developments, and trip reduction programs. The City of Greenwood Village has new Town Center zoning and Mixed-Use Commercial zoning. Modest growth management policies exist in the region. The Denver Regional Council of Governments is working to establish an urban development boundary.

Future Plans and Policies: Denver’s Comprehensive Plan suggests that regional centers should be developed as transit destinations. It includes policy statements that support the provision of incentives for higher density transit-oriented development. The City’s Comprehensive Plan’s Action Agenda endorses the improvement of pedestrian-oriented streets. Denver is preparing a

Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Zoning District to explicitly encourage transit-oriented and mixed-use developments. The Denver Regional Council of Governments is working to establish an urban development boundary. Some jurisdictions, such as the Cities of Aurora and Greenwood Village, state or suggest urban design standards. The Douglas County Master Plan suggests the development of land-planning criteria that promote transit use and protect options for future transit development. In November 1999, the Arapohoe County Board of County Commissioners adopted a resolution that identifies policies to support light-rail transit. Land use policy within roadway corridors where light-rail transit will be located will be reviewed for incorporation into the Comprehensive Plan update.

Although some existing corridor plans and policies support transit-oriented development, others are weak or are still in the developmental stage. While most cities in the corridor contain some provisions promoting a concentration of development around transit, statements do not specify how such general goals will be implemented or tied to certain development policies. Policies to manage and concentrate growth around transit are still being prepared and not yet fully articulated. Action on an urban growth boundary and a regional growth plan is still pending. A Parking Management Plan for all stations is being prepared, but no specific strategies such as pricing have been determined. No specific targets for reducing parking ratios have yet been articulated for the southern portion of the corridor.

Local Financial Commitment

Proposed Non-Section 5309 Share of Total Project Costs: 40%

RTD proposes that $525.0 million (60 percent) in Section 5309 New Start funds and $357.5 million (40 percent) in local funds be applied to the project.

Stability and Reliability of Capital Financing Plan

Rating: Medium-High

The Medium-High rating reflects the strong financial condition of RTD and the dedicated bond revenues to support the project’s capital cost.

Agency Capital Financing Condition: The RTD is in solid financial condition. The agency relies on dedicated sales tax revenue to support capital and operation needs. Because of the area’s growth, the sales tax revenue has been a stable and reliable funding source. The tax rate of 0.6 percent generates nearly $200 million in annual revenue. RTD will begin operation of new LRT lines in 2000 (Southwest Corridor) and 2001 (Central Platte Valley) and is still expected to adequately fund construction of the Southeast Corridor project.

Capital Cost Estimates and Contingencies: Capital cost estimates for the project have increased 84 percent since its major investment study. Project cost escalation is primarily a result of further engineering and the addition of four stations to the proposed system. Despite cost increases, RTD has reduced its New Starts share of project costs from 80 percent to 60

percent. Available working capital exceeds $100 million through most of the project developmental period and reaches $390 million at the conclusion of the twenty-year period. This provision has been included in the cash-flow analysis for unexpected cost overruns or revenue shortfalls.

Existing and Committed Funding: Following the November 1999 referendum, all but $30 million (over 90 percent) of non-New Starts funds are now committed to the Southeast corridor project. The commercial paper bond revenues authorized by the vote are expected to be sufficient to cover the local share of project capital costs. RTD and CDOT will donate right-of-way and prior improvements as in-kind contributions.

New and Proposed Sources: The RTD is proposing that as-yet-undetermined local and developer contributions will account for $30 million in estimated project costs.

Stability and Reliability of Operating Finance Plan

Rating: Medium-High

The Medium-High rating reflects the RTD’s strong dedicated operating revenue stream.

Agency Operating Condition: RTD’s operating financial condition is good. In recent years, the agency has experienced positive operating surpluses, an increased farebox recovery of 23 percent (compared to 17 percent five years ago) a consistent 4 percent annual increase in ridership levels during a six-year period, and increased retained earnings of over $375 million.

Operating Cost Estimates and Contingencies: Annual operating costs are estimated at $35.3 million in escalated dollars. Operating and maintenance costs and inflation assumptions are reasonable for the project’s size and scope.

Existing and Committed Funding: RTD proposes funding operations through a combination of the system-generated revenue and regional sales tax revenues. The RTD sales tax mechanism has been in-place and generated revenue for RTD projects for many years. The historical growth rates of the past five years have been at about 7.6 percent while the revenue projections used a more conservative 5.6 percent growth rate.

New and Proposed Sources: All proposed operating revenue sources currently exist. No new sources are needed.

Locally Proposed Financing Plan

(Reported in $YOE)

 

Proposed Source of Funds

Total Funding ($million)

 

Appropriations to Date

Federal:    
  §5309 New Starts

$525.0

($3.44 million appropriated through FY 2000)
       
Local:    
  Sales Tax Revenue-Based Bond Proceeds

320.0

 
ROW donations

7.5

 
  Local/Private Contributions

30.0

 
 

TOTAL

$882.5

 
NOTE: Funding proposal reflects assumptions made by project sponsors, and are not DOT or FTA assumptions. Totals may not add due to rounding.

South Corridor, Denver CO