The residents of the state of Colorado, and of the Mile High City in particular are well known for their “can do” attitude. Dating back to the days of the Gold Rush, this attitude has enabled Denver to become the gateway to the West. This legacy is carried on to this day, when transportation and infrastructure are still some of the most competitive advantages of Denver.
For a city which enjoys an age of prosperity and expansion it is important to plan ahead in order to accommodate the future needs of its inhabitants, with mass transit being of paramount importance. Denver’s public transportation system needed to keep up with the steady growth of the Metro Denver area, therefore, in 2004 the transit authority of Denver, the Regional Transportation District, took the monumental decision of building a massive new extension to the Denver’s mass transit system. Voters authorized the RTD’s plan to increase with 0.4% the local sales tax in order to provide funding to the project, and work begun on the system in 2006.
Scheduled to be completed in 2016, the system will add 119 miles of light rails to the existing Denver public transportation network, while supplementing it with 6 new transit corridors and extending three others. It is estimated that the FasTrack project could bring up to 300,000 new housing units and up to 20 millions square feet of commercial space within walking distance of a light rail transit station. Besides commuter trains the project plans for the enhancement of the bus transportation system, by expanding it with 18 miles of rapid-transit service. This will allow neighborhoods to take advantage of a facile connection with the city center and provide these areas with a development boost.
In the period spanning between 2012 and 2016, the system will gradually open to the public the new segments of rail and bus service. The most significant segments will be the West Corridor, due to be finished in 2012, running from Downtown Denver to Jefferson County, the East Corridor, which will link the Union Square to the Denver International Airport, and the Gold Line, due in 2015 and extending from Union Station to Downtown Denver and Wheat Ridge. The project also includes a major rehabilitation and development of the Union Station, which will serve as the central point of the entire Denver public transit system. If the system will be finalized as designed, it is estimated that a commuter wishing to reach the DIA from Union Station will be able to do it in less than 29 minutes, at a much lower price than current alternatives such as taxis.
The Denver’s FastTracks public transit system is funded by a number of sources, including a regional sales tax, loans, federal funding and public to private partnerships. As of 2010, the budget is overrun with more than $1.8 billion, bringing the total cost of the project to $6.5 billion. Critics of the project have complained about the high cost of the project, claiming that it will do little to alleviate the chronic congestion from the city. Nevertheless supporters of the project argue that the FasTracks system will be vital in the future development of the Metro Denver area, allowing an improved flow of commuters between the proper city to the satellite neighborhoods and boosting the development of the entire metropolitan area.