Case Studies

The West Rail Line: Building a Sustainable Future for the Denver Region

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In early April 2013 residents of the greater Denver area will have an efficient alternative to cars and buses. The West Rail Line (West Corridor), a 12-mile stretch of light rail transit, will connect the Auraria Campus in downtown Denver to the Jefferson County Government Center in Golden, Colo. Denver Transit Construction Group (DTCG), based in Lakewood, Colo., is an established joint venture, combining Herzog Contracting Corp., out of St. Joseph, Mo., and Stacy Witbeck Inc., of Alamed, Calif.

Operating as the construction manager and general contractor (CMGC), DTCG brings a wealth of experience in mass and passenger transit projects. DTCG’s portfolio of over 150 similar rail transit projects and a team of highly skilled individuals certify it is the one for the West Corridor project.

Colorado native John West, project manager for DTCG, has over 40 years of industry-leading experience. West has worked as a field supervisor, project manager and operations manager for various heavy civil construction projects. He holds a bachelor’s degree in construction management from Colorado State University. Heading up the team at DTCG, West understands what it takes to complete a multimillion-dollar job.

DTCG was selected as the CMGC in 2006 for the $700 million job and has worked with the owner for almost three years prior to breaking ground in June 2009. “We worked with the agency for years beforehand,” explains West. “Through that process we prepared estimates and defined dedicated subs for major aspects of the project. We were very transparent, sharing costs with the owner all the way through.” With an estimated $370 million in construction costs, it was critical to have a high level of communication between DTCG, subcontractors and the owner prior to the undertaking of this site.

Building the West Corridor

The line travels through a series of parks in Denver on the east end of the alignment, through residential neighborhoods in Lakewood, the Lakewood industrial park, onto the Denver Federal Center site and along 6th Ave. to the Jefferson County Government Center on the western side of the project. At over 12 miles of rail, the project was a significant amount of work.

“Prior to this there was no other form of rail transport in the area,” details West. “Just cars and buses.” Ultimately, once the entire system is built, it will provide interconnectivity to other lines, connecting the western side of Denver to downtown.

The Fast Tracks program was approved in 2004. The city originally had projected 10 similar projects, but has only committed to build about five as of 2013. “The money just isn’t there right now,” shares West. “With the downturn of the economy, the price of materials like steel and copper were off the charts. We couldn’t get anyone to lock in prices.”

Self-performing about 50 percent of the work, including track work, grading and wall work, allowed for some control of quality and prices.
A job of this magnitude doesn’t come without challenges. The urban area presented construction access issues for DTCG’s crew, running through parks, backyards, busy streets and right-of-ways. Along with the urban environment, the 100-plus-year-old city had some surprises for DTCG with a number of abandoned and modified utilities.

“Every time you put your shovel in the ground, you’re likely to hit something that’s unexpected,” laughs West. DTCG also had to be cautious of bunkers and other hazardous materials in the ground as part of the site rests on what use to be a Remington Arms factory plant for WWI and WWII.

Looking Forward to a Sustainable Future

Despite these challenges the project has reached near completion. West explains how the site is basically complete, but requires months of prerevenue testing before the line can open for operation to the public. “The site is set to open for revenue service on April 26, 2013, but there is almost six months of testing and running the vehicles prior to opening,” reveals West. “We’re now down to a fraction of the staff on the job because it is in its final phases.”

Although the rail system is sustainable in itself, providing a fuel-efficient means of transportation, DTCG did its part to make the project even more ecofriendly. “We attempted to recycle as many materials as we could,” stresses West. “We worked the old into the new by melting down and reusing old rail line that was built in the early 1900s.”

DTCG salvaged the abandoned track and used it to create the new rail, along with recycling old asphalt and concrete into aggregates. Once the system is in full operation, the city hopes to see more people using the rail line, which will serve as a greener way of getting to work, school and play.

West enjoys building projects that have a positive impact on the environment and community; that’s why he’s remained in the business for the majority of his life. “There’s real appeal and satisfaction in resolving a problem and seeing the finished project,” shares West. “It’s amazing to work with really dedicated people and have the opportunity to mentor young folks entering the industry.”

With the grand opening of the West Corridor in less than three months, the joint team at Denver Transit Construction Group is excited to see the final result. The West Rail Line will serve the area for years to come, making a lasting impact on Denver and the surrounding communities.

Published on: April 25, 2013

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