FasTracks’ cost drop for 2010 includes project cuts in addition to recessionary drop in prices, as RTD scales back to hold down deficit
By Kevin Flynn
While the overall cost of RTD’s FasTracks program dropped 6.4 percent this year in the transit agency’s annual reappraisal of the its costs and revenues, the changes in the program’s individual components – the 10 rapid transit corridors and associated elements – were all over the boards.
And they came not necessarily from the much-anticipated impact of declines in the construction materials cost, but also from RTD’s decision to trim scope from the corridors to try to hold down their costs and get more of the program built by 2017.
RTD now estimates the entire FasTracks program will cost $6.5 billion by 2017 but that it will be short $2.45 billion in financial resources to meet that price – a dilemma that means it can’t all be built without finding new revenues or reducing the price tag further.
The transit corridors and other elements such as maintenance facilities and conversion of Denver Union Station into a transit hub all are being managed as separate projects within the overall $6.5 billion program.
And naturally, as each project has its own unique challenges that make cost swings vary widely, aside from the overarching issues such as costs of construction materials and labor that affect everything fairly equally, whether an individual corridor project went down a little, down a lot or even increased while others decreased depended on unique factors.
A look at the changes to each corridor also shows that cost decreases were not all necessarily due to recessionary drops in the cost of construction material. Many price tag drops were due to cuts to the projects, as new General Manager Phil Washington has asked the project managers of each corridor to do bottoms-up, zero-based re-budgeting of their projects to cut as much scope as can be sacrificed while still accomplishing the basic purpose of each line. One mandate was to keep each line’s originally planned end-of-line destinations instead of cutting them short.
For instance, the 11.2-mile Gold Line heavy-rail commuter line from Denver to Arvada and Wheat Ridge dropped in price by 14 percent over the past year. But RTD attributes much of that savings to reduced scope of work during construction as well as reduced level of service when it’s done. Instead of running trains every seven and a half minutes during rush hours and every 15 minutes off-peak—as outlined in the recently approved Environmental Impact Statement – RTD is proposing 15-minute frequency of trains in rush hour. While this can also lower ridership, it reduces the need for purchasing expensive rail cars from 22 to 12.
RTD is proposing other changes to the Gold Line, including building station platforms for two-car instead of three-car trains.
The short 2.3-mile extension of the Southeast Corridor light rail from the Lincoln Station to RidgeGate dropped the most in price percentage-wise at 14.6 percent, due mostly to dropping construction of one of the three planned stations. RTD will defer building the Lone Tree City Center station east of Interstate 25 until the future development that the train is planned to serve actually materializes.
The Interstate 225 light rail corridor through Aurora fell 11.3 percent due in large part to increasing the steepness of the rail grade on bridge approaches to the recommended light rail maximum climb of six percent. This allows RTD to reduce the length of retaining walls on those approaches, one of the more expensive elements in corridor construction.
On the North Metro heavy rail corridor to Commerce City and Thornton, RTD is proposing an additional 7.6 miles of single-tracked segment. This not only reduces the cost of rail from double-track, but means less construction of overhead electrical wires.
On the East Corridor to Denver International Airport, RTD is proposing to reduce the number of train cars it purchases from 22 to 16, and to pave corridor park-n-Ride lots with asphalt rather than concrete.
Below is a list of the individual FasTracks projects and their cost changes from 2009 to today.
“Other costs” includes such things as shared elements between corridors – the common tracks that will be used by the Gold Line and Northwest Rail trains from Denver Union Station to Utah Junction at Pecos Street, for example. “BRT” is Bus Rapid Transit, the corridor plan for U.S. 36 to give frequent bus trips a dedicated lane and ramps to avoid general traffic. “CRMF” is the proposed new maintenance facility for Commuter Rail train cars, planned on Fox Street north of 48th Avenue. “LRMF” is the project to expand RTD’s existing Light Rail Maintenance Facility off Santa Fe Drive in Englewood to accommodate the extra light rail trains ordered for the West Corridor, I-225 line and extensions to the Southeast, Southwest and Central corridors.
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