Task force needed for light rail extension into Highlands Ranch

Stakeholders will meet quarterly to keep momentum going


Various stakeholders are discussing establishing a task force that would work to extend light rail into Highlands Ranch from the Mineral Station on Santa Fe Drive in Littleton.

The 2 1/2-mile long Southwest Extension, estimated to cost about $145 million, would end at a stop south of C-470, northwest of Children's Hospital Colorado South Campus and west of Lucent Boulevard near the Solana multi-family housing project under construction

“It is really incumbent for those affected by the project to demonstrate cohesive support,” said Doug Tisdale, director-elect of RTD District H, who will replace term-limited Kent Bagley this January. District H encompasses Highlands Ranch, Littleton, Cherry Hills Village, Columbine Valley and portions of western Centennial and Greenwood Village.

The task force would meet quarterly "to keep momentum going and demonstrate that we are going forward,” said Tisdale, also executive vice president for economic development of the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce and former mayor of Cherry Hills Village.

At a Nov. 16 public meeting at the Highlands Ranch Mansion, Bagley told a room of about 20 stakeholders — including Douglas County, Denver South Transportation Management Association, the Highlands Ranch Metro District, the City of Littleton, the City of Englewood, the Englewood Foundation, Sterling Ranch and the South Metro Denver Chamber — that the project needs a task force team, which he later called the 20/20 Foresight Group.

According to Bagley, RTD has invested $25 million into the Southwest Line extension, which includes property acquisition at the future Lucent Station north of Children's Hospital, preliminary planning and engineering for the entire corridor, acquisition of all track right-of-way and purchase of light rail vehicles.

But for the Southwest Extension to progress, stakeholders and other third parties need to match a minimum of 2.5 percent — roughly $4 million — as the minimum requirement for all rail corridor projects. The project would also require vote approval from 10 of 15 RTD directors.

Terry Nolan, general manager of the Highlands Ranch Metro District, said he would like to see the Southwest Light Rail extended to Highlands Ranch sooner rather than later, highlighting the benefit to commuters in the area and the positive influence on economic development.

"The value of property in the vicinity of the station would increase," Nolan said in an email correspondence. "Employees and customers of Highlands Ranch businesses would be able to use light rail as an alternative to driving."

The downsides Nolan sees are traffic coming into Highlands Ranch to access the station and cost, if the Metro District is expected to contribute to the extension.

The Southwest Extension is part of the 2004 voter-approved FasTracks Plan, which includes 122 miles of new commuter rail and light rail, 18 miles of bus rapid transit service, 21,000 parking spaces at rail and bus stations, redirected bus service for bus and rail connections and the redevelopment of Denver Union Station.

The Southwest Extension would have about 700 parking spaces to start, which would alleviate rush hour traffic at Mineral Station, Bagley said.

“It will provide parking for those in Highlands Ranch and other parts of Douglas County,” he said, “so people wouldn't have to use Mineral Station, which is the only other station in the area.”

The extension is projected to take about three years from start to finish, but there is no timeline for when construction will begin.

“We don't have any information relative to timing,” Bagley said.

The extension is one of four unfunded FasTracks-approved rail extensions across metro Denver. It is among the least expensive — an extension of commuter rail from 70 and Pecos to Longmont is projected to cost $1.5 billion.

Tisdale will continue to host semi-annual meetings with stakeholders so that when funding becomes available, the project is shovel-ready.

Bagley said he will continue to help with the Southwest Extension when his term expires.

“All of the users along the Southwest Extension want it completed,” he said. “The sub-regional stakeholders want to see this completed as proposed in the 2004 vote.”


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