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New light rail heads on down the tracks
Linda McConnell © News

After 5 years the RTD's light rail began its grand Opening with a ribbon cutting, banner braking and free rides. Above, the train's conductor surveys the scene at Lincoln Station in Douglas County.
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Amid fireworks and cheers, a new Southeast light rail train pulled out of Lincoln station at Lincoln Avenue and Interstate 25 at about 11:42, marking a new chapter in Denver’s transportation history.

People drawn to the grand opening of the new rail service packed the stations along Interstate 25, waiting to take free rides on the E, F, G, and H lines, which add 19 miles to the system.

The event marked the official end to T-REX, the $1.75 billion project that tore up the interstates and rebuilt them into a unique combination of public transit and highway travel.

Free rides on light rail and celebrations at Southeast corridor stations continue Saturday.

Joan Whiting and her husband, Jack, have been waiting for years for the new lines and turned out for the grand opening.

"We don’t like to drive downtown so we’re ecstatic about it," said Joan Whiting, who lives in the Hampden Heights neighborhood in Southeast Denver.

On Thursday, transportation officials and politicians marked the official end of five years of sweat, noise and traffic jams with a ceremony in Magness Arena at the University of Denver.

"We're celebrating the common-sense solution to one of the Denver metro area's most significant traffic problems," Gov. Bill Owens told an assembly of about 1,000 invited guests.

Still, what seems common sense in hindsight is nevertheless unique among the nation's transportation projects.

The Colorado Department of Transportation and the Regional Transportation District, agencies with competing agendas, partnered to expand a highway and install light rail as a single project. Nowhere else has a highway department and transit agency done that.

And that has made T-REX a pleasant curiosity for outsiders and a model for the nation.

"What T-REX suggests for the nation is that even though we have agencies that are built around their own specific missions — and they can be very parochial about them — we have to bring down those barriers and have them work as a team," said Richard Capka, head of the Federal Highway Administration.

But beyond becoming a chapter in transportation history, the 17 miles of widened highway and 19 miles of new light rail will change communting habits for tens of thousands of people.

Now, workers who live, say, in Denver's Curtis Park can easily commute to the Tech Center in 30 minutes for $2.75 by train. And someone in Lone Tree can make the trip downtown in 41 minutes for a dollar more.

RTD Chairman Chris Martinez said this new mobility expands employment opportunities for people who rely on buses and trains.

At the DU ceremony, politicians and transportation leaders heaped accolades on the skilled craftspeople and laborers who actually got dirty making T-REX happen.

"Construction is the wackiest business on the planet," said Bruce Grewcock, chief executive officer of Peter Kiewit Sons Inc., the construction contractor on the project. "But it's just plain fun."

"Fun" was not a word commuters might have used when looking ahead to a long slog through construction zones.

But CDOT and RTD used a contracting method called design-build that eased the pain. It allowed Kiewit and Parsons Transportation Group to design and build the project as a team.

In the more traditional process, CDOT and RTD would have hired separate engineering firms to draft designs and then possibly hired separate contractors. The estimated completion time for T-REX under that method: 15 years.

The newer process was expected to cut that to eight years. But, in fact, Kiewit and Parsons beat that by 22 months while staying well within the budget. Furthermore, the project absorbed about $48 million in additional work on the fly without losing a day on the schedule.

T-REX trivia

Today's grand opening of the Southeast Corridor light-rail line marks the official end of the T-REX project, the dinosaur-inspired name of a project that brought metro Denver's transportation into the 21st century. Sit back and let your brain absorb some of the facts and figures of the project.

PAVED WITH GOLD

$19.3 million The average cost of each new lane-mile of highway.

$27.6 million The cost per track-mile of light rail.

FULL EMPLOYMENT

At the peak of construction in 2003, about 2,500 people were working on T-REX.

T-REX's SHOPPING LIST

6.9 million pounds of structural steel; 509,000 feet of copper wire for overhead train power; 865,000 tons of asphalt; 830,000 cubic yards of concrete; 57 million pounds of steel rebar; 260,000 tons of crushed rock for track ballast; 80,628 railroad ties.

MILE HIGH SALUTE

About 30 percent of the 7,500 tons of new train track comes from steel retrieved from the demolition of Mile High Stadium. It was melted down and milled by Rocky Mountain Steel Mills in Pueblo. The rails are stamped "Mile High To T-REX."

THE CONE HEADS

12,000 The number of traffic cones used. T-REX also used 2,000 barrels for traffic control. For detours, T-REX painted 2,100 miles of white striping to make temporary lanes.

PICTURE PERFECT

Best location to view the Rocky Mountains? From a light-rail car between Dry Creek and County Line roads. Worst place to view the mountains? In the Narrows around Louisiana Avenue. All you'll see there is the highway and concrete walls.

ALL ABOARD

Each light-rail car costs $2.4 million, seats 64 people and can hold 120.

FULL HOUSE

An expected 33,800 riders a day will use Southeast light rail within a year, increasing to 38,100 a day by 2020.

AC/DC

Not the rock group, the light-rail power sources. Unlike RTD'sinitial 49 light-rail cars, which operate on DC electrical power,the new cars run on AC power. The new cars convert the overhead power, which is 750 DC volts.

TIMETABLE

Lincoln Avenue to California Street: 41 minutes. Lincoln to Union Station: 40 minutes. Lincoln to Parker Road: 19 minutes. Parker Road to California Street: 33 minutes.

HANG 'EM HIGH

1,200 The number of poles along the tracks holding the overhead power lines.

Celebrations mark Southeast light-rail opening

TODAY:

10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Lincoln Light Rail Station (Lincoln Avenue & I-25). Free entertainment, refreshments, music & giveaways

10:30 a.m.

Grand opening ceremony at Lincoln Light Rail Station

Approximately 11 a.m. to midnight

Free rides on Southeast light rail on the segments of the new E, F, G, & H lines from Lincoln Avenue to I-25 and Broadway and from Lincoln Avenue to Nine Mile Station at Parker Road. The trains stop at each station along these light rail segments.

Noon to 3 p.m.

Colorado station (Colorado Boulevard and Evans Avenue)

Food, live local music and activities

SATURDAY:

Free rides on the entire RTD light rail system

10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Light rail station parties (times vary by station)

I-25 & Broadway

Street fair with food vendors

Louisiana-Pearl

Taste of Pearl Street fair with food vendors and merchants

University of Denver

Food from local vendors, music and activities

Yale

Food from Schlotzky's and India Oven, music from Mix 100 Radio, bake sale, balloon artist & canned food drive

Southmoor

Kids' activities, Children's Museum exhibit, local food, music from KOOL 105 and a canned food drive

Dayton

Beach party with live music, Polynesian dancers, food and giveaways from Aurora businesses

Nine Mile

Beach party with live music, Polynesian dancers, food and giveaways from Aurora businesses

Orchard

Snacks, activities, and giveaways,

Arapahoe at Village Center.

Greenwood Village Mayor Nancy Sharpe will kick off the party at 11 a.m.

Dry Creek

Tailgate party and Empty Bowls Soup Project to benefit 9Cares Colorado Shares. Sport team appearances, soup cookoff with area restaurants and entertainment

Lincoln

Fall fair with pony rides, popcorn, cotton candy, face painters, live entertainment and vendors

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