‘R’ is for ‘Almost’— RTD officials optimistic about Aurora’s light-rail line opening soon

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AURORA | Regional Transportation District officials expect the Aurora light rail “R” Line to open later this year — and that’s in spite of several at-grade crossing issues RTD has been seeing with its electric commuter rail A Line from Denver Union Station to Denver International Airport.

“Light rail is a very different thing that we’ve been operating for many years,” said Lisa Trujillo, an RTD spokeswoman for the R Line.

While the A Line that opened earlier this year was RTD’s first electric commuter car rail (followed by the B Line to Westminster and the pending G Line to Wheat Ridge), Trujillo said the R Line is more similar to Golden’s “West” or W Line light rail in terms of potential construction and testing issues. She said RTD is very familiar with light rail design and technology versus the technical difficulties that have come with opening the electric commuter rail lines. The W Line has been consistently operating since it opened in 2013.

The 10.5-mile Interstate 225 light rail system will connect the East Rail Line through Aurora to Nine Mile Station and metro Denver’s Southeast Corridor Light Rail.

Aurora RTD Project Manager Chuck Culig said construction of the entire line is now complete and that RTD is completing a testing phase with the train on various parts of the track.

“The biggest thing we are doing is checking out the functionality of all of the at-grade crossings, making sure that gate traffic signals are functioning,” Culig said. He said in coming weeks, the R Line trains will start being tested during the day. For now, they are being tested at night so they don’t compete with road traffic. Culig added that Aurora police officers are required to be stationed along the line when the train is being tested, which has been difficult to coordinate during the daytime.

Culig said most of the park-n-rides for the R Line’s eight new stations extending north from the existing Nine Mile Station are almost complete. Stations are located at Iliff, Florida, Aurora Metro Center, Second & Abilene, 13th Avenue, Colfax, Fitzsimons and Peoria.

“We’re starting to see some of the artwork at stations going up. At Iliff station, we have artwork installed,” he said. Aurora’s Iliff Station is the only station to include a new, 600-space parking garage to serve residents and commuters. This year Aurora City Council approved charging commuters daily and monthly rates to use the two-story parking garage. Those minimum fees to park in the Iliff garage, set to begin in 2017, are $3 per day and $50 for monthly parking.

Overall, the eight stations will provide a total of 1,800 parking spaces, according to RTD.

The new line includes seven light rail bridges along with two pedestrian bridges. The most prominent bridges in Aurora will carry trains over East Iliff Avenue, East Mississippi Avenue and East Sixth Avenue. The Peoria-Sand Creek Flyover Bridge is slated to be 1,093 feet long — the longest bridge on this particular project. (At more than 9,500 feet long, the Skyway Bridge, part of the under-construction North Metro Rail Line or N Line, will be the longest in RTD’s FasTracks program and the longest bridge in the state upon completion, slated for next year.)

The Aurora-Denver commute should take about 40 minutes on the R line, with trains running every 10 minutes at peak times and every 15 minutes in off-peak hours.

Tom Tobiassen, outgoing RTD District F Board Member for Aurora, said seeing the R Line open before he is replaced by former Aurora City Councilman Bob Broom later this year will be “icing on the cake” as part of his long tenure with RTD, which began in 2008.

“It’s been an amazing eight years,” he said. “When I started, we were talking about hopefully getting the R Line done in 2026.”

Still, RTD has not yet released an official date for when the R Line will open later this year.