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Denver: High speed rail from airport to DT

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Cathy Proctor

Denver Business Journal

Stepping from a plane at Denver International Airport and being whisked downtown in 30 minutes via high-speed train -- dodging the cab line at the door and the traffic jams on Interstate 70 -- has been developer Doug Jones' dream for 10 years.

But while no one doubts the importance of building a quick avenue from DIA to the heart of downtown, who will pay to build what is estimated to be a $701 million project, called the air train, remains the sticking point.

"Financing has been the key thing that's hindered it," said Jones, of Jones Realty Group, who put together the Denver East Corridor Rail Group LLC years ago to try to build the train with private money.

The 23.6-mile commuter rail train, from Denver Union Station to DIA, is part of the $4.7 billion FasTracks proposal that the Regional Transportation District is likely to present to voters in November 2004. The plan requires a 0.4 percent tax increase to help pay to build a network of rail and bus lines throughout the metro area in 12 years.

"When we poll [on FasTracks], it's the most popular line," said Cal Marsella, RTD's general manager, of the air train corridor. "They don't want to drive to DIA, they don't want to pay exorbitant parking prices."

DIA employees also would benefit. About 75 percent of the riders on RTD's skyRide routes to DIA are people who work at the airport, Marsella said.

But Jones clings to his dream of building the line with his group.

"If I do it or if it's done by FasTracks, great, wonderful. The community needs it," he said. "I'd like to do it because I've spent so much time on it. RTD wants us to do it so that it frees up money for the other parts of FasTracks."

Jones sent a proposal to the city in 2001 calling for his Denver East Corridor Rail Group LLC to take over development of Union Station and the surrounding land, and use profits from the development to pay for the air train to DIA.

But the city dismissed it, and has asked for more information about the group's latest proposal, which was presented almost two years ago.

"Their deal had a lot of questions that we needed to see addressed. They were presenting numbers that they had done themselves," said Cheryl Cohen-Vader, Denver's manager of revenue since 1996 and recently appointed deputy mayor by Mayor John Hickenlooper.

Cohen-Vader said the group has to find an investment bank and bonding insurers to work with -- someone willing to underwrite the proposal.

She said it's been a year or longer since the city had any "meaningful conversation" with Jones about the air train.

"From the previous administration's perspective, we wanted to do whatever is the most expedient way to get something built. It's such a critical path from DIA to downtown," Cohen-Vader said.

"If FasTracks comes first, then that's what they want to do," she said.

Jones said he's working with credit agencies reviewing his group's plan and "another asset" that would provide the base of financing for the project. He declined to identify the other asset, but some have speculated it could be real estate-related.

"We couldn't do it otherwise," Jones said of the importance of the asset. "Air train couldn't stand alone creditwise. No one would insure it, no one would finance it. The fare boxes alone wouldn't finance it."

As envisioned, the train would start at Union Station and run east along the Union Pacific rail road lines to Pe

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I'll bet it costs more than $710M. I like the idea now that the airport is way out there. On the other hand, I think building that airport out so far just promotes sprawl and was a very bad idea to begin with.

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I think every city should have a "one-seat" rail connection from downtown to the airport. Toronto is going to be finally getting a long-overdue rail connection from downtown to the airport. It will make only one stop between downtown and the airport, which will keep travel time down.

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It is absurd how far away the airport is from Downtown. More importantly, it seems a bit like a scam when you HAVE to use the on-airport services because no gas station can be close enough to fill the tank.

Personally, I think it would be a great boon for the city, Denver has enough of a city center to for it to really drive tourism. But I would be afraid that too many intermediary businesses and communities would be against it for it to pass. Though I think the Denver area desparately needs better public transit.

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It is absurd how far away the airport is from Downtown. More importantly, it seems a bit like a scam when you HAVE to use the on-airport services because no gas station can be close enough to fill the tank.

Personally, I think it would be a great boon for the city, Denver has enough of a city center to for it to really drive tourism. But I would be afraid that too many intermediary businesses and communities would be against it for it to pass. Though I think the Denver area desparately needs better public transit.

um, cloudship... Denver metro voters passed the FasTracks transit package referenced in the above article, overwhelmingly, back in November 2004.

Regarding our need for better public transit...

Denver's light rail system opened in 1994 with a single line about 5.5 miles long. Another 9 mile line was added which opened in 2000. A 1.5 mile spur line was added in 2002, giving us a current total of about 16 miles and 23 stations.

Currently under construction is a 19-mile line on pace for a Fall 2006 opening. New total then will be 35 miles and 36 stations.

FasTracks, the single-largest transit construction package in the country's history, a $5 billion dollar expansion, will add:

3 new light rail lines totaling 34 miles and 25 stations

3 extensions to the existing LRT lines adding 5 miles and 5 stations

3 new commuter rail lines totaling 80 miles and 21 stations

1 new BRT line totaling 18 miles and 6 stations

31 new Park & Rides and 9 expanded existing Park & Rides adding 21,213 parking spaces

Huge new Intermodal Transit Hub adjacent to the existing Union Station in Downtown

The whole thing will be done by 2016, giving Denver a total system of 154 miles of rail transit, 18 miles of BRT transit, and 93 stations.

51 of the 57 new stations under FasTracks have TOD opportunities. It is estimated that at full buildout, approximately 300,000 residential units would lie within 1/4 mile of a transit station.

Finally, even before the FasTracks election, Denver has had one of the best-run and largest public transportation systems in the country. RTD currently has a service area covering 2,326 square miles covering 2.5 million people. RTD has 10,352 active bus stops, 66 park-n-Ride facilities, 175 regular fixed routes, and a fleet of 1,072 busses. RTD has annual boardings of 78,898,851 and average weekday boardings of 267,393 (2003). RTD was named Best Transit Agency in 1993 and again in 2003.

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And regarding the "absurd" distance DIA is from Downtown... Other cities are spending billions just to add a new runway or a new terminal at their airport just to provide minor relief from overcrowding or to provide a modest amount of room for growth, meanwhile, battling the surrounding communities, tearing out homes and businesses, and facing major environmental hurdles.

Denver International Airport is 50-square miles of land in size that has a 100% environmental clearance for a master plan buildout that includes 12 runways, 5 concourses with over 200 gates and a terminal that can double in size. DIA at full buildout could handle 100 million passengers annually... that's 20 million more than Atlanta handles as the world's busiest airport.

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The airport is still 10 miles away from I-70. let alone how far from the city core. And just because some airports (including Boaton) are spending large amounts of money on a project doesn't mean that is money well spent.

I am not aware of what has passed and what hasn't.. If they did approve it, great! But from looking at Denver as a place to relocate to, I can tell you that, as it stands right now, the public transportation is terrible. Hopefully this will improve that.

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Considering Stapleton was built & was the city's airport for so long, then wound up being in the middle of the city - they had to build the airport where they did.

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