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Stories Along the Line: SERE and serious growth

Adding 2.3 miles to an existing light rail line doesn't sound like that big of a deal.

I, mean, really? When you consider that RTD's FasTracks program is adding a total of 122 miles of commuter and light rail service in metro Denver... 2.3 miles is only ... pfttt ... what? 2 percent of the whole program?

But it IS a big deal and it will better serve the people who live and work in the southeast corridor of metro Denver where the region is booming-and not to mention that the additional 2.3 miles will benefit the entire region.

But first a little history that brought us SERE -- the Southeast Rail Extension.

How we got here

In 2006, people in the state of Colorado got behind a big idea which spawned the beginnings of a 21st century transportation infrastructure-a critical need to improve mobility and relieve traffic congestion in metro Denver.


Opening of the Southeast Rail Line

One of the first light rail lines to open was a 19-mile-long line that operated alongside I-25 from Broadway in Denver to Lincoln Avenue in the city of Lone Tree. This early line -the Southeast Rail Line - was part of the massive T-REX or Transportation Expansion Project, a $1.67 billion I-25 highway expansion and light rail project co-directed by RTD and the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Construction of the Southeast Rail Line began in 2001 and cost $879 million. It was completed ahead of schedule and under budget and opened to great fanfare on November 17, 2006. Part of the project also included a four-mile stretch of light rail which was built from the I-25 and I-225 interchange and ran eastward to Nine Mile Station at Parker Road in Aurora.

Despite the T-REX highway expansion and the addition of a light rail line, the southeast corridor still experiences traffic congestion. Since I-25 serves as the main highway between Denver and Colorado Springs, it is also the primary thoroughfare for commerce and residents who work and live in Arapahoe and Douglas counties, and the cities of Greenwood Village, Centennial and Lone Tree.

Corridor continues to grow

Nonetheless, the southeast corridor continues to grow. Businesses continue to move to the region and that creates the need for more housing, schools and cultural amenities.
 
Between the fourth quarters of 2013 and 2014, employment in the south metro area rose 3.6 percent and 7,540 jobs were added. According to the Denver South Economic Development Partnership, just short of half (42 percent) of all jobs or 673,880 jobs in the Denver metro area result from economic activity in the southeast corridor.


Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree, Colo.
As a case in point, the Denver south region has the most educated and high-tech workforce anywhere in the country with an employment base of 213,300 workers. When you compare that to the estimated 115,000 people who work in downtown Denver, it's evident that the southeast corridor's workforce is nearly 50 percent higher than downtown's.

The Denver south region also boasts the highest concentrations of high tech and corporate workers in the metro area including such industries as aviation and aerospace, bioscience, broadcasting and telecommunications, energy, engineering services, financial services, health care, and information technology and communications.

Ergo, an additional 2.3 miles of light rail line that stretches farther south into the city of Lone Tree can make a major difference in relieving traffic congestion while, at the same, offer more travel options to more people to move around the metro area.

Rail line extension approved

Therefore at its July meeting, the RTD Board of Directors approved a $140 million two-phased contract to design and build that 2.3-mile-long extension to the Southeast Rail Line. Two years earlier, the board had authorized spending $207 million to extend the line from its current terminus at Lincoln Avenue to RidgeGate Parkway. That action gave RTD permission to apply for $92 million in federal funds from the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts Capital Investment Program, to help pay for construction costs.

Meanwhile, business associations and businesses in the southeast corridor contributed an unprecedented $25 million in cash and $15 million in right-of-way, permits and other in-kind contributions to get the light rail extension project built.

When the 2.3 miles of light rail line are opened in 2019, residents and workers will be able to travel from the new RidgeGate station on the new R Line north through Aurora to Peoria Station and connect to the commuter train to Denver International Airport. Also, they will be able to travel from RidgeGate to Union Station on the E Line and from RidgeGate to 18th and California on the F Line.

Little known facts ...

... The new master-planned community of RidgeGate, which straddles both sides of I-25, is on pace for build-out in 20 years on 3,500 acres. This mixed-use, walkable community will include single-family homes, townhomes, luxury apartments, retail, dining, office centers, health care and recreation-all close to the new Southeast Rail Line extension.

Lone Tree logo
... The city of Lone Tree, which annexed the community of RidgeGate, has some of the highest housing prices in the metro region with a median sale price for a single-family home at $705,000.

... In two years, the new three-building Charles Schwab Corporation campus in Lone Tree, on 47 acres, will become the largest employment center in metro Denver, ultimately employing 4,000 people.

... Lone Tree made history this spring when the city broke ground for three new libraries.

... Since the Sky Ridge Medical Center opened in Lone Tree in 2013, more than 30,000 babies have been born there. Plus, the medical center recently celebrated a $117 million expansion and added 300 new jobs.

... The award-winning Park Meadows Mall, which also was annexed into the city of Lone Tree, is Colorado's largest two-level, enclosed shopping center with an outdoor lifestyle area for shopping and dining; and it's the state's only shopping center with dual freeway access to I-25 and C-470.

Park Meadows bridge at County Line Station. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Park Meadows bridge at the County Line light rail train station. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

When RTD FasTracks adds those 2.3 more miles to the Southeast Rail Line it also adds three more rail stations where people can park and hop on the light rail in a region that is home to approximately 252,000 people ... and growing. 




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