AURORA | After years of planning and financial setbacks, transportation officials and city lawmakers gathered March 1 to celebrate the beginning of construction for Aurora’s FasTracks light-rail line.
About 250 people attended a groundbreaking ceremony at the future Regional Transportation District’s City Center light-rail station, where guest speakers talked about the importance of the $350 million project.
The light-rail line will include eight stations to be constructed along the east side of Interstate 225. The corridor is a total of 10.5 miles long, and a mix of commercial and residential Transit Oriented Development projects are planned for the light-rail stations.
Transportation officials said 250 local employees are working on the construction project, which will open to the public in 2016.
“This is what our city needs, this is what our metro area needs, and it’s our hope that development will go hand in hand with what happens in the construction of this great light rail line,” Hogan said.
Last summer, RTD received an unsolicited bid from Kiewit Infrastructure Co. to build out the rail line. The cash-strapped RTD found enough money to pay for the light-rail line because it received a $280 million federal loan in December for another rail line that helped free up enough cash for the entire Aurora segment.
RTD’s 2012 revenue projections from the sales tax increase that voters approved in 2004 were also higher than RTD’s original projections for the year, allowing RTD to afford the project.
RTD General Manager Phil Washington said the transportation district is a leader in coming up with novel ways to pay for such significant and costly projects.
“It’s a model for the rest of the country as they face these mega-infrastructure projects that have to be built,” he said.
Aurora’s FasTracks line is part of a multi-billion dollar transit expansion that includes 122 miles of new commuter rail and light rail, 18 miles of bus rapid transit and 21,000 new parking spaces at light rail and bus stations, according to RTD.
The entire RTD FasTracks system is currently about 70 percent complete, and when the Aurora rail line is open in 2016, the system will be closer to the goal of connecting eight counties through public transportation, Washington said.
“This is a great, giant step toward fulfilling the commitment to completing the entire FasTracks investment,” he said.
Stations along the I-225 corridor include: the existing Nine Mile station, the Iliff station, which is currently under construction, the Florida station, the Aurora City Center Station, the Second Avenue and Abilene Station, the 13th Avenue Station, the Colfax Station, the Montview Station, and the Peoria/Smith Station, which will connect to the East Rail Line that will run between Denver Union Station and Denver International Airport.
The light-rail line will be a boon for travelers coming to the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus said Bruce Benson, president of the University of Colorado.
Benson has seen the campus grow tremendously over the past decade, also reinforcing the need for access to public transit. More than 25,000 people are at the campus daily and that number is projected to double in the next 10 years, he said.
“This is terribly important for us,” he said at the groundbreaking event. “It will provide vital access to one of the top academic medical centers in the world.”
Aurora resident Dala Giffin, a resident of the Mission Viejo neighborhood who attended the groundbreaking event, said she’s an avid public transit user and is hopeful the project will be completed earlier than 2016.
She said it’s encouraging to see all parts of the city, from the Anschutz Medical Campus to small business owners and lawmakers who are in full support of the light-rail line.
“I think we all see the need and we see the advantage of it,” she said.
When it’s complete, the light-rail line will also be an advantage for those who are blind or are physically disabled, she said.
“There are so many people who will have the ability for independent living because they do have transit that’s going to help them out,” she said.
Reach reporter Sara Castellanos at 720-449-9036 or [email protected]