RTD proposed light rail realignment at Anschutz Medical Campus

By Chris Casey | University Communications

DENVER – After lengthy discussion, the RTD Directors’ Monitoring Committee at a Tuesday meeting approved a recommendation to go forward with a vote on a proposed realignment of the I-225 light rail line as it passes along the Anschutz Medical Campus.

The full Board of Directors will make a final vote at its June 25 meeting. Here’s a map of the proposed Fitzsimons Parkway light rail station (pdf).

The new alignment, recommended to RTD in a letter by University of Colorado President Bruce Benson, would situate the Anschutz station a half-mile north of the original planned location on Montview Boulevard. Benson said electromagnetic interference (EMI) and vibrations from light rail pose potential adverse impacts to sensitive medical equipment on the campus.

He noted that the Anschutz Medical Campus is home to about $500 million annually in grant-funded medical research as well as $1.5 billion in world-class clinical facilities. “It is in our mutual interest to take every step possible to preserve an environment that accommodates this highly-sensitive equipment in support of our federal and private sector research activities,” the letter said. “… Further, we believe that a Fitzsimons Parkway station would provide greater access to the surrounding neighborhoods that wish to use the RTD light rail.”

RTD directors generally favored the realignment plan, but several expressed concerns about a planned shuttle that will circulate train riders onto the campus as well as budget issues.

Director Tom Tobiassen spoke for the majority — the board voted 10-4 to proceed to a final vote on the realignment — when he said the new alignment keeps the I-225 line on schedule and on budget. “It’s a lot easier to change lines on a piece of paper than it is in concrete,” he said, noting that no money will need to be diverted from other FasTracks projects to cover I-225 expenses.

Tobiassen added that the realignment will benefit not just CU, but also partners in the city of Aurora, Fitzsimons Redevelopment Authority, Children’s Hospital Colorado and the VA Hospital. “They’re all going to play into this and are part of solving the circulator problem and the long-term development. I think if we can really enhance the value of the campus by bringing the best minds and best projects to this campus, it would be a stellar performer over a lot of other research centers.”

RTD has said that keeping the Montview alignment could cause a lengthy delay on the project which is scheduled to open in 2016. RTD General Manager Phil Washington noted that delays are costly, adding to the mitigation of EMI and vibrations that could cost as much as $60 million. “I look at this as a partnership in making one of our state institutions internationally competitive,” Washington said. “I see that we can build this line. The alternative is mitigation costs that are exorbitant that we don’t have in our budget.”

The vote to accept the recommendation was amended to include language that said that all changes would be made within the original I-225 line budget and include a transportation plan to accommodate Anschutz Medical Campus access by all transit-dependent riders.

Michael Del Giudice, director of Institutional Planning at the University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus, attended Tuesday’s meeting. He said that a comprehensive transportation plan, which includes a campus circulator and new north-end parking, is well under way as part of the Anschutz Medical Campus master plan. The three-prong circulator would carry passengers from the new north parking (and the adjacent Fitzsimons station) to the core of the campus as well as to the academic and research sides. It would link to an east-west shuttle along 17th Avenue, connecting CU Anschutz, University of Colorado Hospital and Children’s Hospital Colorado.

“The north/south legs would be funded by our parking, and the east-west line would be a collaborative effort between the hospitals and CU,” Del Giudice said. “If we could extend to the VA, they would be a part of that system also.”

He said the shuttles could serve transit-dependent passengers. “We’ll probably have our shuttle portions up before RTD is running (light rail), because we need to accommodate parking.”

Also, the Fitzsimons location would be a stopping point for bus routes and offer multi-modal transportation services. Besides being less costly, RTD staff members said, advantages to a Fitzsimons Parkway alignment include:

  • Trains would travel quicker along Fitzsimons (35 mph) than Montview (15 mph)
  • Line would serve fast-growing neighborhoods in Morris Heights and Stapleton.
  • Track fencing poses less interference with pedestrian traffic.

Tobiassen said the alignment will significantly enhance the campus in the long term. “This is a really positive thing to do,” he said. “It’s going to benefit all the citizens of the state of Colorado immensely to have this super-desirable facility at the Anschutz campus.”

(Photo: Map shows proposed location of Fitzsimons Parkway station under a realigned segment of RTD’s I-225 light rail line. Image courtesy of RTD.)

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