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Message regarding RTD vote on light rail near campus

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Author Staff | Publish Date June 25, 2013

AURORA, Colo. -

Dear Colleagues,

The RTD Board is expected to vote this evening on whether to relocate a proposed light rail line and station from Montview Boulevard, on the north edge of our campus, to a site farther north along Fitzsimons Parkway, linked to the campus by shuttle bus. CU President Bruce Benson, Chancellor Don Elliman, CU Anschutz Medical Campus school leaders and University of Colorado Hospital and Children’s Hospital Colorado as well as Fitzsimons Redevelopment Authority (FRA) leadership all support this move, and indications are that the RTD board will too.

I’d like to explain why this relocation would be the right choice.

At first, the Montview line and station appeared to be the best option for campus stakeholders, although those going from light rail to University of Colorado Hospital or Children’s Hospital Colorado might have required a shuttle bus.

But in the several years that have passed since the route was proposed, we’ve studied the issue much more closely and have concluded that running light rail down Montview will likely cause irreparable harm to our ability to thrive for several reasons, including science, safety, functionality and expense.

First, the science. The light rail trains, which would run every five to seven minutes, generate vibrations and electromagnetic interference. These would throw off sensitive lab equipment within at least 300 feet from the rail line, rendering useless existing and planned research at the bioscience park on the north side of the street, the pharmacy school to the south and land now earmarked for future research buildings. In all, about 70 acres of land would be affected. Today, we don’t know absolutely if those problems would be solved by proposed mitigation, but we do know the mitigation effort would cost tens of millions of dollars. Further, as we continue to grow and as equipment gets more sensitive, light rail actually could become a barrier to scientific progress. Mitigation also would delay light rail here by two years, with penalties of $1 million a month.

Safety, traffic and campus functionality also emerged as issues. Montview is the only east-west through street on the campus. Light rail construction would have reduced Montview to one lane of traffic. Beyond that, every five minutes or so as a train came by, state officials determined that gates would have to come down blocking cars and pedestrians from crossing Montview. Another twist was that the state Public Utilities Commission wanted to limit the number of planned north-south crossing streets to five, with barriers running the rest of the route – meaning cars and people could only cross the street in five locations. That promised not just inconvenience but potential gridlock.

Money too was a significant barrier to the Montview route. Widening and improving the street for vehicles was estimated to cost more than $20 million and funds would have to be found and construction completed before the construction of the rail line. Further, RTD's management and consultants calculated the cost of mitigation along Montview at approximately an additional $40 million (and that two-year delay).

While all the entities that share this campus want to make light rail as convenient as possible, we came to understand that the costs of the Montview alternative far outweighed the benefits. RTD leadership also recognized the problems with the Montview option.

A station at Fitzsimons Parkway, linked to the campus by a good shuttle system, emerged as the best choice given the drawbacks of Montview.

We will continue to keep you informed about light rail serving the campus and please let me know if you have questions or suggestions.

Thank you,
Lilly Marks
Vice President for Health Affairs, University of Colorado
Executive Vice Chancellor, Anschutz Medical Campus