The Regional Transportation District and northwest metro area communities took a major step forward in the Northwest Area Mobility Study at the end of July. The group agreed to focus the study on a specific set of transit alternatives that could bring commuter rail and/or other transit improvements to northwest communities sooner than current projections for when RTD can complete the Northwest Rail Line to Longmont.

The alternatives include options for phasing construction of the 41-mile Northwest Rail corridor in segments, options to determine whether extending the North Metro commuter rail line to Longmont is better than serving Longmont via Northwest Rail, and options for arterial bus rapid transit (BRT) routes that could provide improved mobility throughout the northwest area, as well as connect to the phased construction of commuter rail and U.S. 36 BRT.

“This marks an important first milestone in our commitment to collaborate in moving FasTracks forward in the northwest area,” said RTD Board Chair Lorraine Anderson. “We still have a number of challenging decisions to make in this study, but working together, I am confident we can find success.”

“There are no easy answers to the challenge of delivering what was promised to the northwest metro area in FasTracks. We hope that seeing how these various options perform will help us make more informed decisions on transit solutions that can be implemented sooner rather than later,” said Broomfield Mayor Pat Quinn.

Specific to Northwest Rail, RTD and stakeholders agreed to focus the study’s evaluation on phased construction segments that could extend the line from its current end-of-line at 71st and Lowell Boulevard in Westminster (scheduled to open in 2016). The segments include phases to Broomfield, Louisville and Longmont (serving Boulder as part of the Longmont phase). The phased segments would operate on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad line, on new tracks that could serve both commuter rail and freight trains.

A specific phase to Boulder could be considered as well, pending further analysis. There are technical questions about infrastructure BNSF would require at any end-of-line station and whether the cost of building this infrastructure at a Boulder end-of-line station would be comparable to the total cost of the Longmont phase. The study will work with BNSF to further its analysis on these issues in order to determine if a specific Boulder phase is feasible.

The RTD FasTracks North Metro Rail Line is currently planned to end at 162nd Avenue and Colorado Boulevard. The question the Northwest Area Mobility Study will address is how extending the North Metro line to Longmont compares with serving Longmont on the Northwest Rail Line. Two conceptual routes will be analyzed to determine this. One mirrors CDOT’s High Speed Rail InterConnectivity Study route by following I-25 north to State Highway 119 and then west into Longmont. The other generally follows Weld County Road 7 north to State Highway 119 and then west into Longmont.

If RTD and stakeholders agree that it is better to serve Longmont via the North Metro line, a follow-up study would need to analyze, in great detail, all potential alignments and select the specific one to use for the extension. In addition, this change to the FasTracks plan would likely require approval by voters in the eight-county Regional Transportation District.

In addition to the progress on commuter rail and arterial BRT options, the group accepted the study team’s confirmation of the operational plan and major infrastructure elements needed for the FasTracks U.S. 36 BRT line to Boulder currently under construction and scheduled to open in early 2016. The group also accepted the study team’s high-level analysis and recommendations on the challenges reverse-commute congestion on I-25 creates for transit.

The next step for the Northwest Area Mobility Study is to analyze costs, ridership and other factors for the Northwest Rail phases, North Metro extension options and arterial BRT routes. The study should have this information by early fall so that RTD and stakeholders can begin assessing what RTD can afford to build when, and what mix of solutions provides the biggest benefits for the cost, the soonest.

Entities participating in the study are 36 Commuting Solutions and North Area Transportation Alliance; the cities of Arvada, Boulder, Broomfield,  Lafayette, Longmont, Louisville, Superior and Westminster; Boulder County; Colorado Dept. of Transportation, the Denver Regional Council of Governments and the University of Colorado Boulder.