CDOT Is Close To Buying An Old Train Yard Near Downtown Denver That Would Open Up Big Transportation Possibilities

Burnham Repair Yard, Lincoln Park, Sept. 13, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
The historic Burnham Yard borders the west side of Denver’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.

The Colorado Department of Transportation says it's close to purchasing a 61-acre plot of land just south of downtown that leaders say would be "transformative" for the city.

Union Pacific's historic Burnham Yard, sandwiched between Interstate 25 and the Lincoln Park neighborhood, has sat empty since it closed in 2016. CDOT chief engineer Josh Laipply said a deal for most of the 70-acre yard isn't yet done, but it's close.

"We are competing for the property with others. However, the Union Pacific and their representation has said, 'We're going to work solely with you right now because we like what you're offering,' " Laipply said in an interview Tuesday. "We're hoping that purchase and sale could happen sometime in the November, December time-frame, and then hopefully close on the property sometime in January."

In a statement, Union Pacific spokeswoman Kristen South confirmed the railroad has received a handful of offers for the yard.

"We are currently in the process of reviewing those proposals," she said.

If the deal does go through, the parcel would open up opportunities for infrastructure improvements that could affect the entire state. CDOT is in the early stages of studying improvements to Interstate 25 from downtown to Sante Fe Drive. That road carries a quarter-million cars per day, and is constrained in stretches by the South Platte River on the west and a freight rail line on the east.

But that freight line could be moved to right-of-way in Burnham Yard, which would eliminate some at-grade crossings and give CDOT more space to improve Interstate 25. Laipply said two new managed lanes are a possibility, similar to those on U.S. 36 that carry buses, high-occupancy cars and those who pay a toll. But he emphasized that no decisions have been made yet.

2019-09-18 Burnham Yard IAA Memo.pdf
Courtesy of CDOT
The Colorado Department of Transportation wants to buy this 61-acre lot just south of downtown Denver.

"We don't have funds to really do anything, but we should start looking at it to try to figure out what the options are," he said. "What we really like about this property is it really allows more options to be on the table."

CDOT is looking at a number of other alternatives for I-25, including moving some lanes to the west of the South Platte River, realigning the freeway entirely, and even a double-decker design.

The yard could also facilitate access for a possible Front Range Passenger Rail system into downtown Denver from the south, said project director Randy Grauberger.

"We haven't looked at that in any detail yet," Graugberger said. "Everything is still so very preliminary. But over the years, everyone's thought that if Burnham Yard every became available, it would provide additional access for passenger rail system coming up from the south, like the Front Range Passenger Rail concept."

Another potential winner is the Regional Transportation District. The transit agency's has a bottleneck on its light rail system where five lines converge near 10th and Osage, on the east side of Burnham Yard. Laipply said there might be enough space to allow RTD to add another set of tracks there.

That would allow RTD to run more trains, said spokeswoman Laurie Huff.

"RTD would like the ability to increase capacity in the vicinity from two to three or four tracks, if possible," she said via email. "If we intend to add capacity, we need to build on to the existing system. Increasing capacity could improve on-time performance and service for our current riders."

Laipply declined to say how much money CDOT has offered for the property. That number will be made public in the coming months, he said.

There's also potential for more residential development near RTD's 10th and Osage light rail station. As of now, that only exists to the east of the station. CDOT will put out an RFP to developers soon and will work "hand in glove" with the city of Denver, Laipply said.

"From a transit oriented development, from a pedestrian and walkability perspective, I think it's kind of a nexus where the three of us can come together and really do something special," Laipply said.

Laura Swartz, spokeswoman for the city's community planning and development department, said any new development over five acres would require a public input process. The development process overall could take years, she said.