1.) Central 70 Project Reaches Milestone
The project to widen I-70 from I-25 to Chambers Road, the Central 70 Project, reached a milestone in November when CDOT reached agreement with Kiewit Meridiam Partners (KMP) on a complex public-private partnership (P3) for building, operating and maintaining the 10-mile stretch of highway. Public meetings in the spring will provide details such as construction sequencing. CDOT spokesperson Rebecca White said construction will begin all along the corridor but couldn’t identify a specific start date other than to say it will definitely begin no later than next summer. Construction is expected to last four years. KMP’s successful bid was based on CDOT’s 30 percent design. Final design is underway.
The widening of I-70 from I-25 to Chambers Road involves the removal of a 1.8-mile-long viaduct and placing the highway below ground level in a stretch of road near York St. The selected contractor, Kiewit Meridiam Partners (KMP), rose to the top of CDOT’s bidder list in part because they propose a shallower trench—30 feet at maximum depth rather than CDOT’s original estimate of 42 feet. This raises the lowered roadway out of groundwater, reducing construction and long-term maintenance costs.
The project still faces legal challenges from community groups and environmental organizations, but David Spector, director of CDOT’s High Performance Transportation Enterprise (HPTE), told the Front Porch, “We are full-speed ahead. Do the lawsuits have an effect? Yes, but not a real impact. We feel pretty confident about where we’re at and our position.” The lawsuits have raised issues about air quality impacts and alleged links between the highway widening project and storm drainage improvements at City Park Golf Course.
White and Spector lauded the “mitigation” efforts associated with the $2.2 billion project ($1.2 billion is the construction cost, the balance is for operations, financing, maintenance, etc.) They include:
- A “local hire” requirement that 20 percent of the jobs on the project have to be filled by individuals residing in the neighborhoods adjacent to I-70. White said 200 people have come through the program since it kicked off in July.
- $15 million in improvements to Swansea Elementary School.
- Upgrades to 284 homes next to the corridor (e.g., insulation and noise-reducing windows and doors).
- CDOT’s contribution of $2 million for affordable housing and Kiewit’s commitment of $1 million to “invest in the community” (e.g., scholarships for local schoolchildren).
The project will expand the six-lane highway to eight lanes including toll lanes. Major features include removing the 1.8-mile viaduct through Elyria-Swansea and lowering the roadway by as much as 30 feet below grade. A four-acre parkland cap will cover the highway next to Swansea Elementary. The Quebec interchange will be completely rebuilt to lengthen on- and off-ramps and widen Quebec, including sidewalks, as it passes under I-70. White said KMP is obligated to keep three lanes of traffic open in each direction throughout construction during peak travel times. She said there will be only four or five overnight closures of the roadway during the four years of construction.
2.) Solana Stapleton Fits Into the “Toe of the Boot”
A 280-unit market-rate apartment project is expected to win city of Aurora approval in February allowing construction to proceed early in 2018 next year. Solana Stapleton comprises 11 buildings on a 9.06-acre parcel bounded by 26th Ave., MLK Blvd., Newark Ct. and Oswego St. It occupies one of the larger parcels in an area of Stapleton referred to as “the Boot” due to its shape at the far east end of Stapleton. (See the August 2017 Front Porch for an article about this part of Stapleton: https://frontporchne.com/article/toe-boot-takes-shape/.) The site is unique in that the Denver-Aurora boundary splits the parcel. Thus, the clubhouse and pool complex adjacent to the future MLK Blvd. are located in Denver while all the three- and four-story apartment buildings will be in Aurora. The developer is ReyLenn Properties. KTGY is the project architect. Developer representative Jason Smith says the project is “highly amenitized” including a resort-style pool. The project requires no zoning waivers and exceeds city requirements for parking. It was well received by the Stapleton Zoning and Planning Committee (ZAP) at the Dec. 12 meeting.
3.) “Expedited” PUC A Line Review Drags to March
Federal regulators in September signed off on RTD’s crossing technology but the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which has separate regulatory authority for at-grade (surface street) crossings in Colorado, denied the RTD application that same month citing excessive and erratic warning times.
RTD appealed the PUC’s denial of its A Line crossing gate warning regime. That appeal will be considered at a three-day hearing starting March 12. A PUC spokesman indicated a final decision by the commission could occur within a month of the March hearing. At the December 8 pre-hearing conference, PUC Administrative Law Judge Robert Garvey indicated the hearing could be moved up to February 15 if no objections are raised by the Union Pacific and BNSF railroads or the cities of Denver and Aurora to RTD’s “pre-file testimony.” In November, when the PUC commissioners voted to allow RTD to appeal the denial, the commission directed that the appeal be expedited. At the December 8 pre-hearing conference, RTD said they may file a motion before the March hearing requesting permission to remove flaggers at the 11 A Line street crossings.
The PUC is known to be under considerable pressure to approve the A Line positive train control system (PTC) both because it would end financial penalties imposed by RTD on its concessionaire (Denver Transit Partners) and also because such approval would pave the way for federal approval of a quiet zone that would eliminate the need for train horn soundings each time a train passes through a street intersection. Such train horns have plagued northeast Denver for more than two years since the A Line began operating. RTD has estimated that federal review of the pending PTC applications by Aurora and Denver would require an additional 60 to 90 days.
PTC is intended to be a failsafe system for preventing accidents caused by human error. Accidents such as the recent Washington state derailment are termed “PTC-preventable.” The A Line PTC is the first such technology designed for a brand-new commuter rail service in the U.S. As such, the A Line system, once fully approved, may serve as a template for other systems in the country. In 2008, Congress mandated PTC for commuter rail passenger service by 2015, later extending the deadline to 2018.
4.) Aurora Public Schools/DSST Contract Approved
In November, the Aurora Public Schools (APS) board approved a contract with the DSST Public Schools for the charter network’s first school outside Denver. The contract is for a middle school and high school on a nine-acre campus to be located north of 25th Ave. between Fulton and Iola streets in Aurora. The middle school would open in the fall of 2019 and the high school would open in 2022. DSST would give students in the surrounding Aurora neighborhoods, those served by elementary schools Rocky Mountain Prep, Paris, Crawford and Montview, first preference for half of the school’s open seats. The remaining half would first go to any other Aurora students, but if seats are still available after that, students outside the district may enroll. DSST will have a cap of enrolling no more than 450 students. The contract requires that DSST show they’ve enrolled at least 75 of those students by April 1, 2018. By March 30, 2018, both the district and the charter network must identify the money to construct the school building. The district is still in the process of acquiring 1.7 acres of privately owned land (the South Stapleton Office Warehouse Park building) through condemnation and anticipates a legal hearing next April to complete that acquisition.
5.) Greenway Trail Grant Denied
A $1.6 million grant application prepared by Denver last spring to complete paving three of the remaining unpaved portions of the Sand Creek Regional Greenway trail in Denver was denied by the Great Outdoors Colorado board in a very competitive funding cycle. Beth Nobles, who became executive director of the partnership in July, said she learned of the denial in September. Sand Creek projects were not included in the Denver general obligation bonding approved by voters in November. The Greenway is pursuing funding through Denver’s regular capital improvements program. Moving west to east, the three segments to be paved extend from the Smith Road underpass to the Westerly Creek confluence, from the recently completed Prairie Uplands Park to Martin Luther King Blvd. at Havana St., and from the east end of the Bluff Lake Nature Center down to the Aurora/Denver boundary near the Peoria St. underpass.
New Denver Water Rates Start March 1
In November, the Denver Board of Water Commissioners approved rate changes that take effect March 1, 2018. Monthly bills for most Denver residents will increase by about $2.25 or less if they use water the same as they did in 2017. The rate increase will fund a five-year, $1.25 billion capital improvements plan that includes a new, 8.5-mile water pipeline, a new water quality lab and expansion of Gross Reservoir. Customer water bills are comprised of a fixed charge tied to meter size (to stabilize Denver Water revenues) and a three-tiered volume rate that prices water use above the average winter consumption—typically used for outdoor watering—at the highest rate. Denver Water, which is separate from the City and County of Denver, is funded by water rates, bond sales, hydropower sales and fees for new service (called system development charges). The water provider’s collection system covers more than 4,000 square miles. It operates in 12 counties in Colorado. For more information, see Denver Water’s website at www.denverwater.org.