A Regional Transportation District study meant to pick up the pace of the long-delayed FasTracks corridor will go before the public in late January.
The Northwest Area Mobility Study, or NAMS, began last spring. The idea is to find a way to get things moving in the Northwest Rail Corridor -- a 41-mile stretch from Denver to Longmont -- before its projected completion date in 2042.
"That line has been extremely problematic for us because we don't own the rails," said Scott Reed, a spokesman for RTD.
The corridor is the only one in the FasTracks system where the track is owned by the BNSF railway, meaning that RTD has to negotiate to run passenger trains on what has become a profitable freight line.
Some of the options explored by the study haven't gone very far. For example, NAMS looked into doing an end run by instead extending its North Metro Line along either Interstate 25 or Weld County Road 7 to reach Longmont from the east. The alternative proved to be more costly than the original route through Broomfield, Louisville and Boulder.
The study also looked at building the route in either three phases -- Westminster to Broomfield, Broomfield to Louisville, Louisville to Longmont -- or in four, adding a Louisville-to-Boulder phase. But each phase's endpoint requires 2 miles of "chambering track" where a freight train can pull out of the way of passenger traffic, and according to RTD, Boulder simply doesn't have enough space. Not without either blocking multiple roads or requiring a 2-mile-long flyover.
"Once we grade-separated a 2-mile stretch, we might as well just have built to Longmont," NAMS engineering project manager Nadine Lee said. "It's really expensive to chamber in Boulder."
The study also looks at places where "Bus Rapid Transit" routes could be used on key arteries, including as a stopgap for the Northwest corridor until the rail is built.
The first Northwest segment, from Denver to Westminster, is under construction and expected to open in 2016. That's also the only part of the line that doesn't run on BNSF rails.
Community meetings to present the preliminary NAMS recommendations and take public comment will be held in Westminster, Longmont and Boulder. Specific January dates have not been set.
The RTD board is expected to vote on any recommendations out of the study by the end of the first quarter of 2014.
Scott Rochat can be reached at 303-684-5220 or firstname.lastname@example.org.