Lone Tree not waiting at the station

City leaders exploring private financing to move final extension forward

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If the City of Lone Tree gets its wish, light rail trains will glide an additional 2.3 miles from the current end-of-the-line Lincoln station to RidgeGate Parkway by 2017. Otherwise, that $210 million to $225 million extension may not happen for 30 or 40 more years.

The latter is a scenario Lone Tree’s leaders don’t like. So they’re exploring ways to raise money for the final stretch of the southeast line with private investors.

“We agree that the full buildout of the FasTracks is a priority, but we don’t necessarily think that should be at the expense of the southeast extension,” Lone Tree’s Deputy City Manager Seth Hoffman said. “So we are coming up with a plan that will hopefully help move that forward.”

Hoffman was light on details.

“It’s still baking,” he said, but promised more information soon.

The Regional Transportation District’s FasTracks transit expansion program is funded by a 0.4 percent sales tax, federal funds and other sources. But there’s not enough money to build all the planned light rail sections at once, and taxpayers north of Denver say it is their turn.

The vision of a light rail extension and three more stations, serving Sky Ridge Medical Center, the future Lone Tree City Center and a RidgeGate Parkway/Interstate 25 Park-n-Ride plays heavily into the city’s economic future. It helped tip the balance in Lone Tree’s favor for Charles Schwab, which plans to build a corporate campus near the future extension at Lincoln Avenue and Park Meadows Drive. It’s also a vital cog for the high-density, transit-oriented developments planned around those future light rail stations.

“So many businesses are looking to be close to transit to give their employees that option,” said Keith Simon, director of development for RidgeGate’s development company Coventry. “Transportation is a very important foundation of our community.”

The extension’s timeline is critical, Lone Tree leaders believe.

“We think the types of jobs we’ll be able to attract if the light rail comes in sooner will be much better than the jobs we’ll be able to attract without light rail,” Hoffman said. “So that’s why we’re focusing so heavily on moving that forward in a reasonable time frame. We think it’s an opportunity we won’t get again.”

New RTD board member and Parker resident Gary Lasater said most of the board’s attention is on the north.

“Discussions on the southeast extension really are not high on the radar with the board at this juncture,” Lasater said. “Folks up north are saying, at least you’ve got something down south.”

Extending the line north has benefits for south metro Denver, Lasater believes.

“A lot of folks up north work south,” he said. “We need to build a rail system to get folks up north down here conveniently to work.”

In an ideal world, both extensions will be built in a timely manner.

“I’m looking to see what we can do to get the entire FasTracks and extensions – both southeast and southwest,” Lasater said. “The majority of this funding is sales tax. We need folks to buy, buy, buy."