Spring 2007 Newsletter
A Look Ahead for the RTD FasTracks Gold Line EISNow that just two alternatives remain under consideration for the RTD FasTracks Gold Line, the project team is beginning to optimize the alternatives to make them perform better or minimize their impacts. The team will also conduct increasingly detailed evaluations on issues such as environmental benefits and impacts, general station locations and parking, among others.
During the most recent round of public meetings in early February, the Gold Line team recommended keeping two alternatives on the table. One is Electric Multiple Unit (EMU): BN/UP, which is most similar to what was originally identified in the FasTracks plan. It would use electrified commuter rail (a.k.a. EMU) on the existing freight train corridor. The second alternative is Streetcar: Harlan, which would use modern streetcar on arterial streets including 38th Avenue and Harlan. Due to excessive costs, property impacts and a lack of public support, the two light rail alternatives that were being evaluated on 38th Avenue have been removed from further consideration for the Gold Line.
"A great deal of analysis remains to be completed on the two remaining alternatives," said Gold Line project manager Liz Telford. "Our team has been hard at work to refine and improve both the electrified commuter rail and streetcar options."
Because the EMU: BN/UP alternative would operate in an existing freight train right of way, RTD must secure agreements with both the BNSF and Union Pacific railroads. Negotiations are ongoing and progressing well with the Union Pacific.
The BNSF is requiring transit providers nationwide, including RTD, to indemnify the railroad of liability in the event that an incident should occur in their right of way. As a special district established by the state legislature, RTD does not have legal authority to assume that type of liability. However, at the time of publication, Senate Bill 219 was introduced at the Colorado legislature, which would allow RTD to assume that liability. If passed, it would allow negotiations with BNSF to progress. RTD would then look at establishing a national risk pool with other transit agencies.
Meanwhile, the project team is also looking into ways to improve the Streetcar: Harlan alternative. Although the cost of this alternative is comparable to the EMU: BN/UP, and is within the FasTracks budget, the streetcar alternative has a current projected travel time of 41 minutes and a projected weekday ridership of 10,500 - 11,000. By comparison, the EMU: BN/UP alternative has a projected travel time of 25 minutes and a
projected weekday ridership of 15,900-18,200.
Factors like ridership and travel time are crucial criteria in qualifying a transit project for federal funding. The EMU: BN/UP alternative is currently performing at a level that would make it a probable candidate for needed federal funds, but it may be difficult for the Streetcar: Harlan alternative to qualify, given its current performance results.
"The streetcar alternative is currently proposed to share travel lanes with traffic for most of its route," said Telford. "We're evaluating options like traffic signal prioritization and increasing the percentage of exclusive right of way along the route to see if we can improve the streetcar alternative and make it more competitive."
The current phase of alternatives analysis is the fourth and final level of evaluation before a preferred alternative is selected to undergo basic engineering and be evaluated in the Gold Line Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The process began in the summer of 2006 with more than 20 alternatives under consideration. Alternatives were eliminated from consideration as additional evaluations were completed and public input was gathered.
Additional public meetings will be held when the Gold Line team is prepared to recommend a preferred alternative. In the meantime, members of the public can participate in an upcoming Issue Focused Team to get more involved in planning of station platforms and parking (see article inside). The Draft Environmental Impact Statement is on schedule to be released by the end of 2007 with a public hearing
occurring in early 2008.
Gold Line Alternatives at a Glance
Two alternatives remain under consideration for the Gold Line including Electric Multiple Unit (EMU): BN/UP and Streetcar: Harlan. During the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process, these two alternatives must be compared with a No Action alternative and a Transportation System Management (TSM) alternative. No Action looks at the effect of doing nothing to the existing transportation system, other than what is already planned and funded. The TSM alternative evaluates the effect of making low-cost improvements such as expanding, re-routing or enhancing the bus system in the corridor.
This data is up-to-date as of 3/1/07. The project team is conducting
ongoing analysis to refine and improve the remaining alternates, which
will likely impact the figures in the chart above.
Ask Liz: Q&A with the Gold Line Project Manager
Q: With the uncertainties with the railroads, is the railroad alignment still a viable option for the Gold Line? Are those uncertainties the real reason other routes are being evaluated?
A: The original proposed route for the Gold Line (along the existing freight train alignment) is very much on the table as an alternative for the Gold Line. It continues to outperform most alternatives in the majority of our technical analysis categories. The 38th Avenue to Harlan streetcar route is being evaluated for a number of reasons. Federal law requires RTD to evaluate a "reasonable range of alternatives" as part of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Additionally, at the beginning of the EIS and throughout the process, we have heard from a number of members of the public that there is interest in looking at alternate routes that provide better service for northwest Denver.
Q: How will the existing bus service change with the Gold Line?
A: After the preferred alternative has been selected for the Gold Line, RTD will conduct an analysis on how the existing bus system should be optimized given the change in travel patterns that would result from a new rail line. Any adjustments to the existing bus service would be designed to meet the new needs and demands of the corridor. Until the preferred alternative has been selected, (a.k.a. the alternative that is most likely to be constructed), it's too early to tell the exact effect on any specific bus route. Those evaluations will begin later this year.
Q: If the streetcar is proposed to operate in existing lanes of traffic most of the time, how is it any better than a bus?
A: The streetcar alternative as it currently stands would operate in a "mixed flow" condition (sharing travel lanes with vehicular traffic) for 80% of the route, making it more reliable than buses that are stuck in traffic 100% of the time. While mixed flow operation allows us to avoid most property impacts, it increases travel time, reduces reliability of the service and results in lower ridership. We are beginning to evaluate ways to improve this alternative and reduce its travel time. A number of methods will be evaluated, including traffic signal prioritization, peak-hour lane exclusivity and increasing the streetcar's exclusive right of way. In order for the streetcar alternative to be viable, it has to outperform an enhanced bus system.
Next Up for the Gold Line: Stations and Parking
The coming months will be an eventful time for the Gold Line as the project team begins preliminary evaluations to determine the location of
station platforms for each alternative, as well as the size and site of parking facilities.
Specific platform locations will be evaluated for both of the remaining alternatives. This will facilitate the planning for pedestrian and bus access to the train platforms and will assist the local governments and communities in planning for land use around the platforms.
Parking facilities are also crucial to the success of the Gold Line. The Gold Line team will evaluate the need for and feasibility of parking at each station location. They will take into account factors like current development around the station, accessibility, convenience, public input and property impacts.
Citizens who participate in the Issue Focused Teams during the month of April will have the opportunity to provide the Gold Line team with their input on the location of station platforms and parking. For more information on how to sign up for an Issue Focused Team, see the article below.
Additional Issue Focused Teams to be Convened in April
Issue Focused Teams are citizen groups that work with local government staffs and the Gold Line team to develop solutions for specific issues. Teams are convened on an as-needed basis for dynamic work sessions in order to enhance the alternatives under consideration.
During the month of April, the Gold Line team will host Station Platform and Parking Issue Focused Team meetings to help determine the location of station platforms and parking for the Gold Line. The April Issue Focused Team meetings will be convened for each of the remaining two alternatives, and groups will be divided by geographic area.
The kick-off meeting for the Station Platform and Parking Issue Focused Teams will take place on April 5th at 5:30p.m. at the Highlands Masonic Center, located at 3550 Federal Blvd. in Denver. All are welcome to sign up to attend. If you are already registered for an Issue Focused Team, we will be contacting you with information on the upcoming meetings.
Sign up for an Issue Focused Team by clicking here or by calling (303) 299-2000.
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