ARVADA, Colo. (AP) – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood signed an agreement Wednesday committing $1.03 billion in federal funds for two planned light rail lines in Denver.
One line will link downtown to Denver International Airport. The other will link downtown to the northwest suburbs of Arvada and Wheat Ridge. Both lines are scheduled to be ready for service in 2016.
The signing came the same day President Barack Obama made a push for spending on transportation projects as a way to keep construction employees at work. A jobs plan that he hopes to reveal to Congress next week is expected to include proposals for infrastructure spending.
The $1.03 billion award is the last piece of funding needed for the $2.1 billion Eagle P3 project, which includes both light rail lines and is one piece of the Regional Transportation District’s multibillion-dollar FasTracks program to expand transit in the Denver area.
Local sales tax revenues and private-sector funding are paying for the rest of Eagle P3. LaHood said the regional collaboration and mix of local, federal and private support for the project were to be celebrated.
“The project we are funding will be a model for the country and maybe for the world,” LaHood said.
RTD has estimated Eagle P3 will create about 4,700 construction-related jobs. LaHood said small businesses also will pop up along the rail routes and keep train operators and maintenance workers employed.
The line to Denver’s airport could reduce travel times there by half, or around 35 to 45 minutes, Federal Transit Administration Administrator Peter Rogoff said. “That’s the difference between having dinner with your family or not,” he said. It also will keep more of people’s paychecks in their pockets instead of at gas pumps, he said.
The contractor Denver Transit Partners is financing and building the two lines, which RTD will own. RTD will pay the contractor to operate and maintain the lines over 29 years.
Overall costs for FasTracks are estimated at about $6.8 billion, or about $2 billion more than what was presented to voters in 2004. RTD officials have blamed the increase in part on rising costs for material, labor and rights of way, and some changes in project plans. Meanwhile, sales tax revenues to support FasTracks have been lower than expected.
The district’s board has decided to wait until at least 2012 to ask voters in the eight-county district to approve a sales tax increase to help fund FasTracks. However, district officials have said a tax increase will be needed soon if FasTracks is to be completed by 2020. Otherwise, the district has said, it won’t be fully completed until 2042.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said he would be among those asking taxpayers to step up sooner rather than later because of FasTracks’ potential to improve regional transportation and spur economic development along train routes for decades to come.
“We are touching generations we will never meet,” he said.
– By Catherine Tsai, AP Writer
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)