Aileen Cho

From airport expansions to highway improvements, every engineer knows that gaining public goodwill is vital to increasing the chances that a project will be successful. In Denver, convincing every voting segment, from liberal to conservative, to not only tolerate but desire a new light rail system represents a public relations triumph and some very meticulous planning.

Denver's $5-billion Light Rail Baby

As per ENR’s lead news story for our Mother’s Day issue, Denver is planning one of the biggest light rail projects in the country. Tom Clark, head of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, calls the $4.7 billion plan "our baby." Six rail lines and 12 years of construction will give every resident of the Denver metropolitan region proximity within 3 miles of a rail station. Funded by a 4/10-cent sales tax increase that voters approved in 2004, the project will built on old trolley lines or run adjacent to freight lines. Click here to view map

Cal Marsala, general manager for the Regional Transportation District, took nothing for granted–not even legislation that called for a mandatory 10% commitment to transit. Not even anticipated revenue or the possibility of charging fees at 60 station parking lots. Four years ago, the agency bought 19 acres of land for 2 million sq ft of space in downtown, around a planned intermodal center, in anticipation of transit-oriented development. Revenue from that development? "I also did not budget for that," he says.

The agency held peer reviews for engineering estimates and value-engineered the West Corridor segment, which will be the first of the six lines to get underway. Already 45% into design, the line–running on an abandoned munitions freight line – was value-engineered to use single spans instead of double span bridges in some parts. VE firms take note: the agency plans to value engineer for every segment.

The West Corridor segment will serve Jefferson County–the toughest population to win over to the plan. By campaigning as vigorously as a Presidential candidate, Marsala and his colleagues won even that auto-driving country over; voters there passed the sales tax by 57 percent. Every segment of Denver wants its piece of light rail: "When the budget shrank, my first thought was to reduce the length of the project–cut some legs off," recalls Marsala. "We took it back out to the public and they went ballistic. They said, don’t cut the legs." Moreover, real estate developers have pleaded with FasTracks to realign planned routes closer to their sites. Oh, to be wanted!

Marsala negotiated with two freight railroads to buy their rights-of-way through a congested downtown corridor so that they can build new lines east of Denver International Airport. Once the railroads vacate, new commuter line opportunities will open up–as will opportunities for more rail-building firms.

The agency is looking for ways to create a differential parking system where out-of-district people parking at a district park-and-ride lot will pay, but in-district daily commuters won’t have to.

More Denver Delights

Light rail will come even sooner than the $4.7-billion baby. The $1.7-billion T-Rex project to expand Interstate 25 and build light rail down its middle is about 80% complete and on time for a late 2006 completion. T-Rex project director Larry Warner says 34 rail cars, each $2.4 million, are being delivered from Siemens to begin testing. All stations are underway and 49 new bridges are just about done. The light rail track is made from steel taken from the remains of Mile High Stadium. Let’s hope the Colorado Rockies take a cue from Denver’s transportation trends.

A joint venture of Kiewit and Parsons holds the $1.2-billion design-build contract, including quality assurance oversight. The design-build capacity came through legislative change in 1999, and now Colorado Springs is following suit with a $140-million 1-25 12-mile widening. Rockrimmon Constructors, a team led by CH2M Hill and Sema Construction, won the contract in January. According to Katie Matthews, spokeperson for team member Wilson & Co., Inc., the competing teams used Additional Requested Elements (AREs), which allowed them to select from a list of additions to project scope to obtain evaluation scoring points. See the site at www.

Colorado's second major design-build project is under way. (Photo courtesy of Wilson & Co.)

Due for completion in 2008, the project seems to show that Colorado has a knack for coming up with catchy acronyms: it’s called COSMIX, for Colorado Springs Metro Interstate Expansion.

Airports: Low-Cost Carriers Cost The Trust Fund Dearly

At the recent American Association of Airport Executives conference in Seattle, Woodie Woodard, a funny, articulate and well-respected Federal Aviation Administration associate administrator, cautioned officials that the aviation trust fund "cannot sustain the trend" of growth of regional low-cost carriers. "Larger numbers of regional jets equal less trust fund revenue per flight," she said. "The lion’s share of the trust fund is linked to ticket prices. We need ticket revenue to be linked to the actual unit of production."

Sixteen applications for new regional low-cost airlines are awaiting certification by the FAA, and the more regional jets there are, the more congestion and operational costs for U.S. airports–with less consequent revenue from ticket prices and numbers of passengers per plane. The Airports Improvement Program will receive $3 billion in President George W. Bush’s proposed bill, down from the $3.2 billion in the last round.

Regardless, some monster airport master plans are moving ahead. Los Angeles International Airport is beginning a three-year $1.4 billion capital improvement program as part of a total $9 billion master plan. That’s 48 projects and 80 contracts to go out in the next three years, including a $500-million in-line baggage screening system and a $$350-million renovation of the Tom Bradley Terminal to prepare it for the Airbus A-380 megajet. These projects are planned for construction beginning in January 2006. The Final EIS awaits an FAA ROD this month.

Personal Transportation Observations: Kiosk Kink

I look forward to more common-use self-service kiosks and people movers at airports. Ironically, my trip to and from this AAAE conference, which had about 3,000 attendees, included a return flight with a Seattle-San Francisco leg, operated by Alaska Airlines, and a San Francisco-New York leg, operated by American Airlines. Unfortunately, although the airlines have a codeshare agreement, this alliance has not yet extended to their e-ticketing. Because of the different airlines, the convenience of e-ticketing was rendered null and void for me. Why doesn’t a codeshare agreement include the ability to electronically check in at one or both of the airlines’ kiosks for at least that segment of the flight? I’ll be pleasantly surprised if I get frequent flyer credit for my Alaska Airlines portion of the flight as well. I won’t count on it.

Aileen Cho is ENR Associate Editor for Transportation.