Northwest Rail: end of line hopefully won't be Westminster

RTD Board remains committed to completing Northwest Rail at a Feb. 9 study session

Liam Adams
ladams@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 2/11/21

The Regional Transportation District will take steps toward completing the Northwest Rail Line after the board of directors and Gov. Jared Polis urged RTD to do so at a Feb. 9 study session. There's …

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Northwest Rail: end of line hopefully won't be Westminster

RTD Board remains committed to completing Northwest Rail at a Feb. 9 study session

Posted

The Regional Transportation District will take steps toward completing the Northwest Rail Line after the board of directors and Gov. Jared Polis urged RTD to do so at a Feb. 9 study session.

There's been recent uncertainty about whether RTD would finish the commuter rail line set to travel from Denver to Boulder to Longmont. However, at the study session, RTD CEO and General Manager Debra Johnson said her staff would present a plan to the board in the next 60 days.

“It's necessary to really complete the system. Without a complete system, you have populations, significant populations that are underserved,” said RTD Board Director Vince Buzek in a phone call after the Feb. 9 study session. Buzek's district includes Westminster, Thornton, Northglenn and Federal Heights.

In 2004, residents in RTD's boundaries approved a 0.4 percent sales tax increase for the FasTracks program to fund construction of commuter rails, light rails, the Flatiron Flyer bus service and the intermodal hub at Denver Union Station. To date, RTD has finished the majority of FasTracks projects, including the G-Line to Arvada and Wheat Ridge and N-Line to Thornton. The Northwest Rail, also known as the B-Line, is the largest, incomplete FasTracks project.

In addition to operating expenses associated with the B-Line, RTD needs to pay BNSF Railway, who owns the track the line will go on, to share the track. In 2004, RTD predicted the Northwest Rail to be finished by 2015 and to cost $565 million in total, explained William Van Meter, RTD assistant general manager, at the Feb. 9 study session. Partly due to BNSF asking for more money, the total expected cost has ballooned to $1.5 billion. Only one leg is complete to date, which is from Denver Union Station to Westminster Station. The plan is to add six more stops, including a new station in Westminster at Church Ranch. The exact completion date remains unknown for several reasons, but it could be as late as 2046, Van Meter said.

Residents and municipal officials north of the Denver metro area have begun to question whether the project would ever see the light of day, drawing criticism from Polis and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse. Stakeholders have been equally frustrated. All the buzz culminated in the Feb. 9 study session featuring Polis after the RTD board invited him.

The governor articulated similar concerns many others had. The first is logistical. “It's important for transit,” Polis said, “We want people from Longmont and Union Station and Adams County and Westminster and Boulder, we want them to be able to move around.”

Buzek echoed the governor in a separate phone call. Adams County residents who commute westward for work, for example, need the B-Line to be done, the director said. Plus, as it is right now, the B-Line is under-utilized. The leg to Westminster Station “is a one-stop hop and it's not servicing a big population. Whereas, if you had it going all the way, you're servicing huge populations,” Buzek said.

The other main concern is public trust. Stakeholders along the B-Line corridor have been paying into FasTracks to help fund projects elsewhere, Buzek said. “Okay, we're happy to do that, but it's our turn now,” he added.

Polis and other directors sent a similar message at the Feb. 9 study session. The governor urged RTD to, “honor the will of the taxpayers who very generously provided the 0.4 percent increase in sales tax and that we do so as expeditiously as possible to complete the Northwest Rail.”

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