The Regional Transportation District has selected the Denver Transit Partners consortium for the single-largest FasTracks contract to build and operate commuter rail lines to Denver International Airport, Arvada-Wheat Ridge and south Westminster.

Denver Transit Partners’ proposal came in at $2.085 billion—$300 million lower than RTD’s budget estimate of $2.385 billion. The proposal also included opening the central line between Denver and DIA by January 2016, 11 months ahead of RTD’s deadline. The transit agency’s staff rated Denver Transit Partners’ proposal higher on the technical grounds than that of the sole competing bidder.

The board voted unanimously Tuesday to award the project’s biggest contract to the international team.

Denver Transit Partners consists of Fluor Enterprises Inc. and Australia’s Macquarie Capital Group Ltd., as sponsoring members. They are joined by major partners Ames Construction, Balfour Beatty Rail Inc., Alternate Concepts Inc. and HDR. 

“It is a remarkable achievement for RTD to get a project of this magnitude through a public-private partnership that meets our goal of contracting under our budget and ahead of our schedule,” said RTD Chair Lee Kemp. 

The competing bidder was a consortium known as Mountain-Air Transit Partners, which included Siemens, Veolia Transportation, Kiewit and HSBC Bank.

The two teams spent the past two years working on proposals. RTD will pay the Mountain-Air Transit Partners a $2.5-million stipend in exchange for the intellectual property in its proposal. That gives RTD the option to use cost-saving ideas from the non-selected proposal. 

“This is a significant, prestigious and strategic selection,” said Patrick Flaherty, head of Fluor’s Infrastructure business. “We expect this to be the first of many public-private partnership transit projects procured under the available method in the U.S. in the coming year.”

The first stages of construction, which include relocation of utilities and freight tracks along the DIA route, are slated to begin before summer’s end.

“We said three years ago that public-private partnerships would be a vital part of keeping our FasTracks program moving forward,” added Kemp. “The decision [Tuesday] shows that the faith placed in us by the Federal Transit Administration and our stakeholders through some difficult times was justified and has been rewarded.”

The Eagle P3 Project packages several FasTracks projects into a single contract to design and construct the East Corridor to DIA, the Gold Line to Arvada-Wheat Ridge, a short segment of the Northwest Rail corridor to south Westminster and the commuter rail maintenance facility in north Denver. 

RTD and the Colorado Dept. of Transportation used design-build on the Transportation Expansion light rail and highway project, which was completed under budget and ahead of schedule in 2006, said Kemp.

Eagle P3 takes public-private partnerships to a broader level. In addition to final design and construction, Denver Transit Partners is bringing private financing to the table and, under a concession contract, will also operate and maintain the rail service on the lines for 40 years. In return, RTD will make annual payments to Denver Transit Partners based on its performance in meeting RTD’s service standards. 

Through this arrangement, called Design-Build-Finance-Operate-Maintain, RTD reduces its need for upfront cash. RTD also expects the project to attract $1 billion next year through the Federal Transit Administration Full Funding Grant Agreement process. 

Anthony Loui, FTA’s Eagle Project team leader, attended the RTD board meeting from Washington as a representative of FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff. The FTA has been a fully supportive partner in RTD’s pursuit of a P3 project.

“RTD is the first transit agency in the United States to pursue this type of comprehensive public-private partnership that includes not only the design and construction, but the financing and ultimate operation and maintenance of the end product,” said RTD General Manager Phil Washington. “RTD has always been on the front line of finding innovative methods for delivering projects. Now this project can get on with creating thousands of jobs.”

With Tuesday’s decision, RTD will have 47 miles of new rail under construction or under contract, more than double the amount of rail in RTD’s existing light rail system. It also represents nearly 40% of the total FasTracks rail network now under contract.