The Colorado Department of Transportation and Union Pacific have reached a preliminary agreement for the sale of 59-acres of a railyard just south of downtown Denver.
That parcel, the historic Burnham Yard, is key to a number of transportation projects in the city, including expanding Interstate 25 and adding more capacity on the main trunk of the Regional Transportation District’s light rail network.
“After much work and extensive discussions, we are pleased to take this step in the possible purchase of Burnham Yard,” said Matt Inzeo, a CDOT spokesman. “We will continue these efforts in this next phase of this process.”
The High Performance Transportation Enterprise, a CDOT-owned business with more financial flexibility than the department itself, approved a non-binding term sheet Wednesday. That document set a purchase price of $50 million. It's the first step towards a contract, which could be finalized later this year.
“We believe this a good opportunity for Union Pacific and CDOT, allowing the agency to address congestion issues on I-25,” said Kristen South, a spokeswoman for the Omaha-based railroad.
The yard was used for maintenance and storage for decades before Union Pacific largely abandoned it four years ago. Now, it houses some decaying buildings and patches of cracked asphalt.
The state will have 90 days to conduct environmental tests and can terminate the agreement “for any reason,” the term sheet says. HPTE estimates environmental costs at $7 million. A final agreement will need the approval of the HPTE board of directors, CDOT’s transportation commission and Union Pacific’s management.
If the deal goes through, a freight line just to the east of Interstate 25 could instead run through Burnham Yard. That would free up enough space that CDOT could add more lanes to the interstate (they would likely be toll lanes). CDOT is still in the early stages of deciding what that stretch of freeway should look like in the future.
The sale would let RTD solve a congestion problem of its own, too. Now, five light rail lines meet near 10th and Osage, which can lead to delays — especially during rush hour. The district could use the space to add more tracks and give its trains more space to breath.
“RTD looks forward to participating in a cooperative planning and environmental process for Burnham Yard that CDOT will lead,” RTD spokeswoman Laurie Huff said in a statement. “RTD is prepared to spend $6.9 million for this purchase when the environmental work has been completed.”
The yard could also be used for a possible Front Range passenger rail system to get into downtown Denver from the south. A state-backed group has been working on that project for more than a year, but it faces headwinds at the state Capitol.
Any pieces of the property not used for transportation needs could be sold to private developers. Union Pacific could get a cut of those profits, the term sheet says.