The Regional Transportation District's long-awaited N Line from downtown Denver to Thornton and Northglenn will open on Sept. 21.
"This is really good news," interim General Manager and CEO Paul Ballard told the board Tuesday night.
"We're ready to go."
It will include six new stations, with a total of 2,480 new parking spaces. A 13-mile one-way trip from the end-of-line station at East Lake in Thornton to Union Station will take 29 minutes. An extension to Highway 7 will be built when funding is available, RTD says.
The line was supposed to open in 2018 but hit delays that resulted in lawsuits and RTD paying out a multi-million-dollar settlement. More recently, RTD threatened to fire that contractor for missed deadlines.
And now, it will likely open in a very challenging period for the district. The coronavirus pandemic has sent ridership into a tailspin, and it's not clear when passengers will return in a big way. And the agency is also floating a permanent service cut of 40 percent to help balance its decimated budget.
Those budget issues — the agency is expecting a $1.3 billion hit by 2026 — led one board member to question whether RTD should open the N Line this fall.
"I'd really like for us to think about, as we are considering opening the N Line, if it makes the most sense for us from a financial standpoint. But also if we expect to have the ridership to warrant such actions," board member Shontel Lewis said at a May meeting.
The line will cost $27.4 million to operate in 2021, an RTD spokeswoman said. The agency decided last year to operate the line itself, rather than contract that out to the private operator of the A, B and G lines.
RTD's pre-pandemic estimates put weekday ridership of up to 9,100 during its first year of operation.
“I am confident opening the new line will play a key role in encouraging local recovery and continued growth in the north metro suburbs," Ballard said in a news release.
Once the N Line opens, RTD will have completed about 70 percent of its 2004 FasTracks plan. The bulk of the remaining unfinished work is an extension of the B Line to Boulder and Longmont. But at an estimated $1.5 billion, it won't become reality for at least three decades under current funding scenarios — if at all.