R is for Ready (Almost): RTD offers media glimpse of new R Line through Aurora

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AURORA | The digital letters scrawled across the front of the light rail trains that have been coursing through Aurora in recent months will finally swap out that “test train” text for “Lincoln” or “Peoria” next week when the new R Line, a 22-mile stretch of light rail connecting Aurora to Denver International Airport and the rest of the metro area, opens to the public.

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 bring 10.5 miles of new light rail to the city, spanning from the northern terminus at the Peoria Station to the current end of the line at Nine Mile. The R Line will continue west and south before finishing each route at the Lincoln Station in Lone Tree.

The full line opens to the public Feb. 24. Riders will be able to hop on the train, which will serve eight new stations in Aurora and eight existing stops toward Denver and Lone Tree, free of charge next Friday between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Feb. 24 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 Genova. Kiewit Infrastructure Company laid down the new sections of track along the line.

Originally scheduled to be completed several months ago, the line was delayed due to hang-ups obtaining additional certifications with the city and the Public Utility Commission, according to RTD Spokesman Nate Currey.

“I think the most important part was making sure that we had coordinated everything with the city of Aurora and that our gate arms were working properly in coordination with the lights,” Currey said. “And this is the only area outside of Downtown Denver that you’re actually going to see the train running at-grade with cars, so that’s pretty significant. We wanted to make sure that that was all 100 percent ready to go before we opened.”

Prolonged decisions to reroute the R Line around the Anschutz Medical Campus and closer to the Aurora municipal complex on Alameda Avenue also caused early snags in the line’s development.

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 R Line will take about 55 minutes to travel from Lincoln station to Peoria Station. It will take about 20 extra minutes to get to DIA. Trains will come every 10 minutes during peak hours and every 15 minutes during non-peak times.

On top of trains, the R Line will bring four new park-n-rides with a total of 1,249 spaces to the city. Three of those parking lots will operate like the rest of the parking lots in the RTD service area, which provide free parking for 24 hours and a $2 daily fee after that. The city-owned Iliff parking garage, which boasts about 600 parking spots, will cost drivers $3 per day to park their cars and will not include a 24-hour free period. That is the only such garage in the RTD service area, according to Currey.

Aurora Mayor Hogan Steve Hogan did not immediately return a request for comment on the R Line Friday afternoon. But in a statement released last month, Hogan said the rail line “will transform Aurora.”

“This is not just a train line running through a part of our community,” Hogan said. “This rail line traverses the core of the city, and when it opens on Friday, Feb. 24, it will truly connect the entire metropolitan region to Aurora.”

Larry Hoy, chairman of the RTD board of directors said the new line will accelerate the evolution of the city’s geographic heart.

“Trains are a bit nostalgic, aren’t they?” Hoy said. “And I think it’ll change that character (of Aurora) to kind of a warmer, neighborhood feeling.”