AURORA | Despite the roughly 20-degree temperatures atop the Iliff Station parking garage this morning, Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan wasn’t complaining as he celebrated the long-awaited start of light rail service through Aurora.
“A lot of people said it would be a cold day in…” Hogan said to a packed tent of people Friday morning, pausing for comedic effect. “…February…”
Aside from that verbal wink to some of the city’s perennial naysayers, Hogan and a smattering of other metro area leaders were all smiles Friday at the grand opening celebration of the city’s now-operational R Line, which brings 10.5 new miles of light rail to the city and sews up what had been a lingering gap in the Regional Transportation District’s growing transit network.
After almost four years of construction and several months of delays, the R Line — also referred to as the I-225 Rail or the Aurora Line — will be running regularly from the northern terminus at the Peoria Station south to the current end of the line at Nine Mile, at I-225 and Parker Road. The R Line continues west and south before finishing each route at the Lincoln Station in Lone Tree.
Rides on the R Line are free Friday until 9 p.m. There will be celebrations through the early evening at the Iliff Station and the Aurora Metro Center Station.
Friday also marks the first day the existing H Line will be extended two stops from the current end of the line at Nine Mile Station to the Florida Station.
Part of the Regional Transportation District’s FasTracks plan, which was approved by voters in 2004, the new R Line sews up what had been a lingering gap in RTD’s regional network, according to Dave Genova, general manager and CEO of RTD.
“It’s going to be an incredible connector of the eastern part of the Denver metropolitan region, connecting northeast Denver and through Aurora city center all the way down to southeast Denver,” Genova said during a media tour of the new line Friday. “It’s going to create … brand new commutability options in a lot of different directions and, of course, connect this part of the Denver metro region like it’s never been connected before.”
The R Line, which cost about $687 million to construct, is expected to service approximately 12,000 riders per day one year after it opens, according to Dave Genova, general manager and CEO of RTD. Kiewit Infrastructure Company laid down the new sections of track along the line.
Aurora City Manager Skip Noe, representatives from Kiewit, RTD Board Chairman Larry Hoy and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock also gave remarks at the opening event.
“Today, with the opening of the R Line, we realize yet another milestone to connect our communities, connect our regions and, again, give our residents choices — mobility choices — to create even stronger quality-of-life opportunities,” Hancock said.
Hogan and Noe both trumpeted the economic impacts the construction of the R Line and future light-rail service will have on the city.
“I believe firmly that future generations of those in Aurora will look back at this day and say ‘This is the day when the future of Aurora really began,’” Hogan said. “We know that we are a city that is only about half built out; we know that we are a city that in the past has tended to build horizontally; we know that the future of Aurora will be vertical, will be new kinds of development and new kinds of opportunity.”
Ward V City Councilman Bob Roth, as well as At-Large Council Members Brad Pierce and Bob LeGare, also attended the opening event. Former council member and current RTD Board Member Bob Broom was also in attendance.
But the fanfare wasn’t without disruption.
A group of about a dozen protestors from the Colorado People’s Alliance, an activist organization with offices in Denver and Aurora, started chanting, “We need a way to get from here to there” during closing comments from RTD General Manager and CEO Dave Genova.
The group has been protesting RTD events since the organization increased fares roughly two years ago. Protestors from the organization held a similar demonstration when the University of Colorado A Line to Denver International Airport opened last spring, according to Robel Worku, racial justice organizer for COPA.
Worku, who lives in Lakewood, said the group is keen on convincing the RTD board to create an income-based fare pass for low-income riders.
“We’re not against increased transportation, but we what we do have a problem with is that the transportation isn’t necessity accessible for the folks who need it the most,” he said. “And this is just the most recent example in a series of many.”
Riders will be able to travel the entire line for $2.60 one-way. To get to the airport, riders will be charged $9, which is the flat rate for access to DIA from anywhere in the RTD network.
The new line spawned headlines last weekend when a man who was reportedly hard of hearing and may have been intoxicated was killed by an R Line test train, according to police. The Adams County Coroner’s office has to yet to release the man’s name.
MORE ON THE R LINE AND TRANSIT:
FAST FACTS ON THE NEW TRACKS
• The R Line adds eight new stations and 1,800 new parking spaces to the RTD system.
• The Peoria Station is the only place where light rail and commuter rail vehicles run side-by-side and where light rail and commuter rail platforms are side-by-side for passenger transfers.
• The light rail tracks at Peoria Station can store 18 trains.
• The University of Colorado is planning to provide a free shuttle that will pick up riders at Fitzsimons Station and bring passengers to the Anschutz campus.
• Out of a total of 29 crossings on the R Line between Nine Mile Station and Peoria Station, 13 are gated crossings.
• There are seven light rail bridges on this project.
• The first bridge on the R Line is the Median Bridge. The 1,200-foot structure is made up of clear spans up to 135 feet in length, two post-tensioned straddle bent caps and ten 96-inch diameter caissons 45 feet long. The train tracks will be directly fixed to this bridge, instead of the concrete ties and ballast rock that you see now on RTD’s current light rail lines. Direct fixation is used instead of concrete ties and ballast on bridges that are more than 400 feet long to reduce the weight on the bridge. This is the second longest bridge on the project.
• There are 11 Traction Power Substation (these substations supply the power to the overhead catenary system of the light rail) locations that are approximately one mile apart along the I-225 Rail Line.
• There will be 37 relay houses along the I-225 Rail Line. Relay houses contain the equipment that controls the signals and crossing gates necessary to allow for movement of trains in a safe andefficient manner.
• The Colfax Avenue Bridge goes over Colfax Avenue and is an elevated station. When the public sees this bridge, they may not realize it’s actually several different structures. Technically there are two separate bridge structures, which appear to be one long continuous bridge. As such, this is the longest bridge on the project.
• The Colfax Station has a distinctive arch design which signifies the city of Aurora’s signature station and the “Gateway to the Rockies.”
R is for Ready
• The R Line is part of RTD’s 2004 voter-approved FasTracks plan to expand transit across the Denver metro region.
• The newly constructed 10.5-mile light rail line through Aurora will provide regional connections to the East and Southeast rail lines.
• The line will feature eight stations: Peoria, Fitzsimons, Colfax,13th Avenue, 2nd Ave•Abilene, Aurora Metro Center, Florida and Iliff.
• From the existing Nine Mile Station to Peoria Station, the line will give passengers access to the Aurora Metro Center, the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, the Fitzsimons Life Science District and Denver International Airport via a transfer to the University of Colorado A Line.
• Length: 10.5 miles
• Vehicle: Light rail
• Stations: 8
• Parking: 1,800 new spaces
• Service Frequency: 10 min (peak) / 15 min (off-peak)
• $2.60 Local one-way fare
• 8 new light rail stations – 16 total; 4 new Park-n-Rides
• 15 minute service most of the day – 30 minutes in non-peak hours
• All trips on the R Line are a local fare $2.60
• If your trip involves a transfer to another rail line, fares could be regional ($4.50) or airport ($9.00) depending upon your destination
• 4 am – 5 am, service every 30 minutes; 5 am – 8 pm, service every 15 minutes; 8 pm – 1 am, service every 30 minutes
• 10.5 miles of new light rail, connecting Nine Mile Station to Peoria Station
• H Line service is extended to Florida Station
Light rail vehicles
• Max speed: 55 MPH
• Max capacity: 155 passengers (64 seated, 91 standing)
• Boarding: Ramp available at the first set of doors and stairs at all other entrances to the vehicle
• Bikes: Two bikes allowed per bike zone, located at both ends of a train car