Denver/West Corridor LRT B-15

Printer Friendly Version

West Corridor LRT

Denver, CO

(August 2001)


The Regional Transportation District (RTD) is proposing the West Corridor project, an 11.0-mile light rail transit (LRT) system extending from the existing LRT line at I-25 and 13th Avenue in Denver along the former Associated Rail right-of-way and US 6 to US 6/US 40 in Jefferson 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 near the existing Auraria station. At this location, the West Corridor would also connect with the Central Platte Valley (CPV) light rail extension serving Lower Downtown (LODO).

The capital cost estimate of the fixed-guideway element is $624.3 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 $29.1 million. Ridership is estimated at 23,900 average weekday boardings, including 11,800 daily new riders.

Summary Description

Proposed Project:

Light rail line
11.0 miles, 14 stations

Total Capital Cost ($YOE):
Section 5309 Share ($YOE):

$624.3 million
$366.3 million

Annual Operating Cost ($YOE):

$29.1 million

Ridership Forecast (2020):

23,900 avg. weekday boardings
11,800 daily new riders

FY 2001 Financial Rating:
FY 2001 Project Justification Rating:
FY 2001 Overall Project Rating:


The Recommended rating is based on the project’s adequate justification criteria and capital and operating plan. The overall project rating applies to this Supplemental Report on New Starts and reflects conditions as of August 2001. 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.


The Regional Transportation District (RTD), in cooperation with the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) and the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), completed a Major Investment Study (MIS) on the corridor in July 1997. The MIS resulted in the selection of a multimodal package of light rail transit (LRT) and roadway transportation management (TM) improvements. The DRCOG Board has included the LRT locally preferred alternative in the 2020 Long Range Regional Transportation Plan. In March 2001, FTA approved this project to initiate preliminary engineering. A Draft Environmental Impact Statement is expected to be completed in August 2002, with the Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision expected in the first half of 2003. A combination of Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and State funds are being utilized to fund Preliminary Engineering (PE).

TEA-21 Section 3030 (a)(25) authorizes the project for preliminary engineering. Through FY 2001, Congress has not appropriated any Section 5309 New Starts funds for this project.


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 entering into preliminary engineering. The project will be re-evaluated and for next year’s Annual Report on New Starts.


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

Mobility Improvements

Rating: Medium

The 11.0-mile project is expected to serve 23,900 average weekday boardings and 11,800 daily new riders in 2020. RTD estimates the following annual travel time savings for the West Corridor LRT line.


Mobility Improvements

New Start vs.


New Start vs. TSM

Annual Travel Time Savings (Hours)

3.6 million

2.6 million

Based on estimated 1996 data, there are 1,182 low-income households within ½ mile of the 11 proposed stations, representing 8 percent of total households served within ½ mile of the stations.

Environmental Benefits

Rating: High

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.


New Start vs. TSM

Carbon Monoxide (CO)



Nitrogen Oxide (NOx)



Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)



Particulate Matter (PM10)



Carbon Dioxide (CO2)



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.


New Start vs. TSM

BTU (million)



Values reflect annual BTU reductions.

Operating Efficiencies

Rating: Low

RTD estimates the following operating costs per passenger mile.




New Start

System Operating Cost per Passenger Mile (1998)




Values reflect 2020 ridership forecast and 1998 dollars.

Cost Effectiveness

Rating: Low-Medium

RTD estimates the following cost effectiveness indices:



New Start vs.


New Start vs.


Incremental Cost per Incremental Passenger



Values reflect 2020 ridership forecast and 1998 dollars.

Transit-Supportive Existing Land Use and Future Patterns

Rating: Medium

The Medium land use rating reflects supportive growth management policies and tools to implement land use policies balanced by current suburban and auto-oriented development in the corridor. Existing and relatively dense land uses and strong transit supportive policies occur within Denver and generally less dense development and weaker policies exist outside of the City.

Existing Conditions: The corridor generally parallels Colfax Avenue (US 40) 8 of its 11 miles west. It then parallels US 6 west from there, its last three miles. For a rail corridor, densities and total employment and population levels are relatively low within corridor station areas. The population density is 5.8 persons per acre and employment equals 4.5 employees per acre. High density commercial and office space constitute the central business district. Small-lot, low-to-medium density residential and commercial space characterize most 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. A total of 34,000 jobs are scattered throughout the remainder of the corridor, with 8,800 of them concentrated in consecutive stations at Cold Spring (Denver Federal Center) and Lakewood Industrial Park.

The proposed corridor would connect downtown to the Denver Federal Center, mid-corridor, and the Jefferson County Government Center at the end of the line. Much of the current development draws on automobiles as parking appears plentiful. Zoning in the corridor is moderately supportive of transit, with the more supportive policies existing in Denver and less supportive outside of the City. Modest growth management policies exist in the region. The City of Denver has modified zoning along previously developed LRT corridors. The Denver Regional Council of Governments is developing 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 regional planning and 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 (DRCOG) is working to establish an Urban Growth Boundary. DRCOG’s Metro Vision 2020 Plan supports implementation of light rail in the west corridor. Some jurisdictions, such as the Cities of Lakewood and Golden, state or suggest urban design standards. The Jefferson County Strategic Plan suggests the development of land-planning criteria that promote transit use and protect options for future transit development.

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.

Local Financial Commitment

Proposed Non-Section 5309 Share of Total Project Costs: 41%

RTD proposes that $366.3 million (59 percent) in Section 5309 New Start funds, $2.0 million (less than 1 percent) in CMAQ funds, and $258.0 million (41 percent) in local funds be applied to the project.

Stability and Reliability of Capital Financing Plan

Rating: Medium

The Medium rating reflects the strong financial condition of RTD based on its dedicated sales tax revenues to support its capital program, although full coverage of debt service is undetermined. The sales tax generated an estimated $204 million in year 2000. Sales tax revenues may be used for capital and operating costs at the discretion of the RTD. The first call on sales tax revenues go to debt service as specified in the bond covenants of the sales tax revenue bonds issued by the RTD.

Agency Capital Financing Condition: The RTD is in solid financial condition, largely based on its dedicated sales tax revenue to support its capital needs. RTD has a capital market rating of AA- by Standard and Poor’s and A1 by Moody’s. RTD has recently undertaken several major transit investments (Southwest Corridor, Central Platte Valley and Southeast Corridor LRTs) for a total of $1,100.8 million in capital costs.

Capital Cost Estimates and Contingencies: The estimated capital cost is reasonable for a project at this early stage of project development, i.e., initiation of preliminary engineering.

Existing and Committed Funding: The direct sales tax revenues are dedicated to the RTD program, though none have been committed to this project. Less than one percent of total project cost has been committed to the proposed new starts project.

New and Proposed Sources: The RTD is proposing that as-yet-undetermined local and developer contributions will account for $21 million in estimated project costs. In addition, the proposed bond proceeds will require voter approval.

Stability and Reliability of Operating Finance Plan

Rating: Medium

The Medium rating reflects the RTD’s strong dedicated operating revenue stream. RTD, however, is operating two lines and plans to open the Southeast Corridor in 2007.

Agency Operating Condition: RTD’s operating financial condition is good, largely based on stable and reliable dedicated sales tax revenues. RTD estimates total transit system operating costs of $655.8 million ($ YOE) by year 2020. Sales tax revenues are forecast at$655.5 million ($YOE) and farebox and other revenueare forecast at $148.2 million. This implies that the RTD will have approximately $148 million available to meet capital and debt service requirements.

Operating Cost Estimates and Contingencies: Annual operating costs are estimated at $29.3 million ($ YOE), reflecting a 4.5 percent increase over projected operating costs upon completion of the Southeast Corridor LRT project.

Existing and Committed Funding: RTD proposes funding operations through a combination of the system-generated revenue and regional sales tax revenues.

Locally Proposed Financing Plan
(Reported in $YOE)


Proposed Source of Funds

Total Funding ($million)


Appropriations to Date

  §5309 New Starts


($0.00 has been appropriated through FY 2001)


  Sales Tax Revenue-Based

Bond Proceeds


  Sales Tax (Direct)


  Local/Private Contributions





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