By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Thirty-six years ago, Lois Lindstrom Kennedy marched up to the podium at a community meeting in Arvada discussing the vision of building a train system that would connect the Denver suburb with the rest of the metro area.
On Friday, Lindstrom Kennedy sat in the audience in the East Terminal of Denver International Airport where a “major milestone” for what has become the FasTracks transit expansion project was announced. The environmental process is finally complete for the East Corridor and Gold Line projects.
Having named the Gold Line herself at that community meeting 36 years ago, Lindstrom Kennedy listened attentively Friday as Regional Transportation District officials announced the progress of the proposed 11.2-mile line that will connect Denver Union Station to Wheat Ridge, passing through northwest Denver, Adams County and Arvada.
The line was originally to be called the Beer Train because it was meant to use the same track used to connect to the Coors brewery in Golden. But Lindstrom Kennedy didn’t like the name — it wasn’t family friendly. So, she suggested the Gold Line — a fitting name for a train that would run through Arvada, the first location in the Rocky Mountain region where gold was found in 1850.
On Friday, she expressed optimism that the financially crippled project will eventually see completion.
“I feel it’s as important as the first train — the Colorado Central Train from Denver to Golden that was built in 1870, and that sparked the foundation of Arvada — and I feel the coming of the Gold Line will spark the same sort of difference,” said Lindstrom Kennedy.
With the environmental process complete and the Records of Decision signed by the Federal Transit Administration for the two corridors, FasTracks planners are now able to begin the final design process and seek a Full-Funding Grant Agreement to secure federal funding for the so-called Eagle Takes Flight FasTracks project that is estimated to cost $2.3 billion. RTD plans to select a team of private partners in June 2010 to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the project. Construction-related activity is expected to begin on the East Corridor later in 2010.
The East line is a proposed 23.3-mile rail line that will run from DIA to Union Station.
An optimistic and enthusiastic Phil Washington, RTD Interim General Manager, said Friday that the project will see completion, and argued that it is not a cost, but an investment into the future economic stability of the region.
“We’re gonna get this thing built,” he said. “This is huge, this is an investment initiative we’re building for the next 100 years — we’re building for economic development, we’re building for jobs, we’re building for everything that our grandkids are going to benefit from this. This is huge.”
But FasTracks planners are forced to face the sobering reality that their $4.7 billion voter-approved project is facing a $2.2 billion deficit. When voters approved a regionwide sales tax in 2004 to pay for the project that is to build 122 miles of light rail and redevelop Union Station, they were told it would be completed in 12 years. These days, it’s anyone’s guess when the full project will actually see completion.
Washington said an analysis will be presented to the RTD board in January, which will update them on just how short the project currently is. Following that, polling will be conducted and the board will then decide in February or early March whether to go back to voters for more money, he said.
Washington remains confident that voters will support the project, even if they’re asked for more money.
“I think there’s great support for FasTracks, I think we have to keep emphasizing the economic benefit of this,” he said following the celebration Friday. “We know that there’s a recession, we know times are tough — that is all the more reason to do this economic stimulus package, because we will come out of this recession quicker than anybody else will with this project.”
The interim transit chief added that selling voters on the idea of a second tax will be about properly framing the argument.
“We have to re-frame the argument to say, ‘Hey, look, we understand we have to go back out for an additional sales tax increase, but understand the investment that you’re putting in and understand the jobs that are going to be created,’” said Washington.
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters