Feb 072012
Authors: Jordan Kurtz

The Mason Corridor expansion project has been in the works for more than a decade, but the simmer of its changes are finally starting to brew in the streets of Fort Collins.

In the coming months, major changes to Mason Street and the surrounding area will take place in planned stages.

“The primary goal of the project is constructing a guide way for a new bus service,” said Fort Collins Special Projects Engineer Erika Keeton. “It will bus only for three miles and it will run along two-way traffic for two miles for a total five-mile-stretch.”

Keeton said the stretch will also include stations –– a new station on the north side of Prospect Road, stops and a new south transit center that will be constructed.

The transit route will extend from the south transit center located south of Harmony Road to Cherry Street in north Old Town.

The implemented transit system will be a Metropolitan Area Express Bus Rapid Transit (MAX BRT) system.

A BRT is a type of transportation system that is more efficient than a traditional version, with 60-foot-long units that carry 63 people.

“This will be the first BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) in Colorado,” Communications Project Manager Claire Thomas said. “It’s a catalyst project for the community.”

According to Fort Collins real estate specialist Patrick Rowe, the MAX BRT system will provide major attractions along the corridor including Old Town, CSU and the Foothills Mall. The route is also reportedly operated at a rate that is nearly double the speed of automobile traffic along College Avenue.

“It provides a transportation backbone,” Rowe said.

The project was originally conceived in 2000 in the city’s planning department and has evolved over time, Keeton said.

After more than a decade of evolution from its primitive stages and adoption by City Council as a part of the “Downtown Strategic Plan” in 2004, the first phase of the project has been completed.
In the two-year span of 2012-2014, a series of construction projects will be completed including the NRRC Overpass, South Transit Center, Troutman Underpass and BRT itself. The city anticipates the BRT service to begin in 2014.

“I live right along Mason, so I have seen it from the beginning,” Fort Collins resident Joe Gutierrez said. “It’s going to be nice to be able to take my niece downtown or to the mall on a regular basis since I don’t have my own car to do it.”

“I didn’t know they were planning on putting a light at Laurel and Mason either,” Gutierrez added. “That will just make it a lot more convenient to cross the street there instead of having to play ‘Frogger.’”

But things will have to get worse before they get better because, for at least one week in July 2012, there will be full closure to traffic on Mason Street between Cherry and Laurel Streets due to the reconstruction of the railroad tracks.

In the following month, the final adjustments to the traffic signals, equipment and road striping will be completed.

The Mason Corridor is an $87 million project that is primarily funded by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).

The FTA is funding 80 percent of the project, and the remaining 20 percent is fueled by the city, the Downtown Development Authority, the CSU Research Foundation, Colorado Department of Transportation, local real estate, engineering and construction.

Just recently, the FTA added a $5 million cushion for contingency after reviewing the final documents. The project was originally budgeted to be $72 million, but due to inflation rates and new contractor bids, it has made a $15 million jump on the bottom line.

Keeton said that transit is highly subsidized and the city will gain the spur of economic development, but the true beneficiaries of the project are a part of the private market.

An economic analysis concurred with the statement, “the private market is expected to take advantage of the opportunity to build university-oriented housing on key redevelopment sites near the transit stops.”

“The concept is to be able to live here without a car,” Keeton said.

The MAX BRT will operate Monday through Saturday from 5 a.m. to midnight. Between the hours of 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., the service will have a 15-minute frequency. During peak travel hours, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., there will be a 10-minute frequency. After 9 p.m., 30-minute intervals are expected.

Collegian writer Jordan Kurtz can be reached at news@collegian.com.

Project Phases:
Install necessary railroad and traffic signal equipment (November 2011 – June 2012)
Reconstruct railroad tracks – requires full closure to vehicles for seven days on Mason Street between Cherry and Laurel Streets (July 2012)
Finalize adjustments to signals and road striping (August 2012)

Construction Timeline:
Conversion of Mason Street to two-way operation – 2011-2012
Construction of the NRRC Overpass – 2012-2014
Construction of South Transit Center – 2012-2014
Construction of Troutman Underpass – 2012-2014
Construction of Bus Rapid Transit – 2012-2014
Anticipated service begins on Bus Rapid Transit – 2014

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