ColoRail -- and its lawyers -- aim to derail current Union Station project

Lately, the Union Station redevelopment plan has been cruising along nicely, with one political roadblock after another falling to the wayside. Last month, the citizen-based Open Space Initiative Group all but capitulated in its efforts to have the project's developers ditch plans to build two modern wing buildings on either side of the historic station. And last week, the union-backed FRESC organization, after long negotiations, agreed to back the Union Station plan in exchange for the development including affordable housing, living-wage and small-business concessions. But now there's a new hurdle: The Colorado Rail Passenger Association is coming out strongly against the current development plan -- and to show they're serious, they're bringing along their lawyers.

Last week, the Colorado Rail Passenger Association, or ColoRail, sent a letter to its 200 or so active members noting the current Union Station redevelopment, scheduled to break ground later this year, is "heavy on real estate development and light on convenience, efficiency and capacity for transportation functions." To correct the problem, ColoRail asked its members "to contribute to ColoRail's Legal Fund in order to pursue our organization's goal of once more saving Union Station from flawed planning and ensuring its proper place in our future mobility."

Yes, there could be a lawsuit, says ColoRail President Ira Schreiber, adding, "We're serious. This has got to be stopped." ColoRail has a history of looking out for Union Station. The organization, originally named Save Our Station, formed two decades ago in order to keep the station building from being demolished -- and at that point, it included an active member named John Hickenlooper.

While the historic station isn't in danger of the wrecking ball this time around, Schreiber says the role of the station building and transportation elements in the current plan have been marginalized to suit the interests of the private development to going up on and around the site. "It is a design that is going to be extremely inconvenient to the traveling public," he says. "It is more expensive than alternatives that we have proposed and have had summarily dismissed and probably most importantly, it allows for absolutely no future expansion of rail travel." A better and cheaper alternative, he says, would be to build all the rail lines next to union station, plus an elevated bus terminal above them, and not worry about private development until after the transportation construction is complete.

All such options been fully vetted during Union Station's six-year planning process, and now ColoRail's objections are too little, too late, says Peter Park, Denver's Community Planning and Development manager. "None of the objections raised by the Colorado Rail Passenger Association emerged during the approval phase of this project and the extensive public-input process ended some time ago," he notes in a statement. "It is time now to move forward to transform Denver's historic Union Station into a magnificent multimodal transportation hub that will serve the needs of residents, tourists and commuters throughout the region."

Park's makes a good point -- but the question remains: Will it hold up in court?

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