Denver RTD Releases Lessons Learned Report

The Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD) has released a Lessons Learned Report which gives a realistic and sober review of what’s gone well and what should be done differently to implement the FasTracks program. The FasTracks is the RTD’s voter-approved, multi-billion dollar program to build 122 miles of rail transit, including six new commuter rail and light rail lines and extensions of three existing lines, build 18 miles of bus rapid transit service, add 21,000 new parking spaces, redevelop Denver Union Station and redirect bus service to better connect the eight-county District.

The report reviews lessons learned in nine main areas that can be used throughout the completion of FasTracks itself – currently one of the most ambitious transit expansion efforts in the country – as well as for future programs. Among those lessons are things that have worked well including:

  • Early interaction and agreement with key stakeholders and third parties regarding project scope, alignments and stations has been critical.
  • RTD’s Environmental Methodology Manual, which incorporated lessons learned in real time and streamlined coordination efforts with local and Federal agencies, has been a success that helped lead the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to award the Gold Line Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Excellence in Environmental Document Preparation.
  • The real property acquisition effort has reached many milestones including about 45% of the property needed on the West Corridor either acquired or under agreement; much of the railroad right-of-way needed for the balance of the FasTracks corridors is committed and will be available to RTD within the next 12 to 18 months.
  • Use of the matrix organization has been effective in personnel management by allowing flexibility in assigning personnel when a specific expertise or resource is required that may not be available on a corridor. It also assures a level of standardization and provides great experience for personnel who may later transfer or be promoted to a corridor position.
  • The current one-team approach with RTD and consultant personnel has been successful and will be continued. Consultants will continue to be utilized for specialized areas of expertise that would be difficult for RTD to recruit, and can be moved in and out of the program on shorter-term assignments, as needed.
  • The Public Information Liaison concept has worked well, with a member of the program PI team assigned to each corridor project as the central communication link between the program PI team and the corridor team. This structure establishes a liaison for the duration of the program to maintain consistency and familiarity with the project, its stakeholders and historical issues.

Among the categories identified in the report where improvements can be made are:

  • Planning/Environmental Studies – RTD will no longer expect that that environmental studies and planning will take just two years and will staff projects differently.
  • Cost Estimating – RTD will maintain a 30% cost contingency until design reaches 30%.
  • Revenue Forecasting – RTD now will offer a range and not a direct percentage when making cash flow projections. Instead of predicting that sales tax collections will continue forward at an average 5 percent each year for the next 25 years, the agency would present estimates from worst-case to best-case scenarios.
  • Railroad Right-of-Way – RTD has learned that railroad negotiations are complex endeavors with schedule and costs often controlled by third parties.
  • Property Acquisition – RTD will improve communication with potentially impacted property owners, emphasizing that the acquisition of property takes place following the completion of the formal environmental process. It also hopes to shore up reserve funds for unexpected costs and for higher-than-expected costs in buying up rights of way.
  • Communications – RTD will develop a Public Information and Public Involvement Program as early in a program as possible, and keep the public better informed about the realities involved in both building out FasTracks and paying for it.

The document is an agency-initiated review that takes an honest and open look at what has gone well should be repeated, and also what should be done differently. It is refreshing to see this level of circumspection on such an important transportation project.

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