B Line Makes Its Debut
On Sunday, July 24, about 400 hundred business leaders and transit supporters celebrated the opening of the FasTracks’ Northwest B Line at the Westminster Station at 71st Ave and Hooker Street. This event marked the second opening of four rail lines this year and accompanied the inauguration of the Flatiron Flyer (bus rapid transit on U.S. 36). Westminster Station is the first station on FasTracks’ longest and most expensive line – the Northwest Line.
I had the joy of reuniting with former Regional Transportation District (RTD) directors who restarted the FasTracks program after the defeat of “Guide the Ride” in 1997. A coalition of the Metro Denver EDC and Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, the RTD board/staff, and the Metro Mayors Caucus drove the creation of the system we see today. The Metro Denver EDC was created, in part, to get FasTracks approved by voters, ultimately providing $750,000 for the campaign. The Metro Mayors Caucus held the proposal (and the region) together, ensuring that every quadrant got “something” from the effort. And a talented, passionate team of board and RTD staff members nurtured the system into reality – despite a huge funding shortfall discovered a year after FasTracks’ passage.
For Westminster’s revitalization efforts, this addition to the south of the city is great news. A 350-spot parking garage, a new park, and plenty of land for commercial and residential uses, brings needed infrastructure to the neighborhood. Westminster has spent three decades developing the area with new housing options for residents, improving retail, and providing new job opportunities. The changes in this up-and-coming neighborhood are in full display. New affordable housing, townhomes, single-family homes, and small office and retail fit nicely into a neighborhood that allows residents to find housing in the neighborhood they grew up in. The hard work of the city has created a whole new vibe.
A little northwest of the station is a major redevelopment of the Westminster Mall, a mixed-use project focused on becoming the town’s center with a focus on public art, retail, commercial, and housing options. Like most Colorado cities, Westminster relies on sales tax for most of its operating revenue. Over the years the northwest suburbs have competed strenuously for shoppers. Westminster, Northglenn, Broomfield, Louisville, Thornton, Lafayette, and Boulder have changed strategies as consumer habits have changed. This quadrant of the region, according to the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) predicts slowing population growth but continued job growth along U.S. 36. The presence of rail transit coming into the corridor will increase the lure of companies who are looking for multimodal transportation options. Mobility will be an issue.
What remains is how to finish the rest of the Northwest Line. Recently, the proposed line was pegged to cost around $1.7 billion. The entire FasTracks system that will be operating by the end of this year is about $5 billion. Other projects are in the queue ahead of the Northwest Line completion. RTD predicts that the rest of the Northwest Line might be eligible for construction in 2040.
The success of FasTracks cannot be measured in terms of job attraction and eventually its impact on congestion as driverless cars become a common sight on our roadways. While we did not get everything we hoped for, we have come a long way, overcoming huge challenges. And we did it together, acting as a region, acting in partnership with government and the private sector. Congratulations to all who created this extraordinary improvement in our quality of life and in our shared future.