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DENVER-Transportation-oriented developments built around light-rail train stations along the metro area’s $1.7-billion T-Rex project face challenges such as added costs, traffic from high-density housing and forging public-private deals. But the single biggest challenge to the developments, according to experts at a workshop on the T-Rex widening of Interstate 25 and the addition of light rail, is parking.

“Parking is a hysterical issue,” says O’Neill Quinlan, a Regional Transportation District board member, one of about 150 people in the audience attending the “Lessons Learned From Planning T-Rex,” at a recent workshop sponsored by the Colorado chapter of the Urban Land Institute. “We’re going to find we underestimated parking [along T-Rex] from Day One.”

None of the six developers, planners or consultants on the ULI panel disagreed with him. An earlier speaker, Liz Rao, RTD’s director of planning, noted if a commuter doesn’t reach the Mineral Street station on the southwest light rail line by 7 a.m. during the week, there aren’t any parking space available. RTD initially projected 8,400 people would ride that line daily, but the actual number has turned out to be 18,000, more than double the early projection, she says.

“Parking is at the top of the list,” says Brad Mueller, a senior planner for Douglas County. “It’s a challenge.”

Gary Woods, who is developing the 36-acre Lincoln Station mixed-use development south of C-470 and west of Interstate 25, near the Park Meadows mall and next to a light-rail station under construction, agrees parking is an issue. But he says he’s optimistic it can be solved.

Woods, a vice president of Bradbury Properties, says it’s possible if the 1,100 or so parking spaces there aren’t enough, there may be some parcels of land that won’t be developed for five or 10 years that can initially be used for additional parking.

Another challenge will be to make sure that traffic along major arterial streets around his development continues to move swiftly, while traffic is slowed on the interior streets, so the center of the development is pedestrian-friendly. He also cautions that light rail itself doesn’t drive a development. “Transit is an amenity, not a driver,” Wood said. “Transit will make a good project better, but it’s not going to make a bad project good.”

Another panel member, Ferd Belz, president of Cherokee Denver, developer of the 50-acre Gates site at Broadway and I-25, says his development will fit seamlessly with the existing neighborhoods to the east. “It’s not a matter of reconciling with our neighbors,” Belz says. “Our surrounding neighbors are part of our [transit oriented development.] We’re not a separate entity being plopped down in the middle of a neighborhood. In order to a successful TOD, our neighbors are going to benefit, too. They’ll shop at our retail, they’ll use our bike paths, they’ll get on the light rail from the station on our property.”

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