Reconnecting America People * Places * Possibility

New Reconnecting America Report Explores Economic and Workforce Development Impacts of Denver’s Southeast Light Rail Line

Reconnecting America has completed an analysis of the economic and workforce development impacts of Denver's Southeast Rail Line and concluded that the 6-year-old light rail line has only supplemented what is already there, instead of acting as a driver of economic opportunity for residents of the region. This is the first in a series of reports by the Mile High Connects examining the opportunities and challenges of connecting middle-skill workers to economic opportunities through improved transit service and is meant to inform the planning of current and future transit corridors in the Denver region.

Reconnecting America and its partner, Mile High Connects, examined changes in the number and type of jobs along the rail line as well as within station areas since the line opened on Nov. 17, 2006. The authors also looked at residential changes, last mile connections, and the presence of work-supporting businesses such as childcare. Reconnecting America Project Manager Elizabeth Wampler and Program Associate Bill Sadler were authors of the final report, "Enhancing Economic Opportunity through Transit: Lessons Learned from Denver’s Southeast Light Rail Line."

"There are many lessons learned that can be applied to other transit corridors,” said Reconnecting America Program Director Catherine Cox Blair. “The shortcomings of this line underscore the need to do more – more study, more outreach, more planning – in order to get the most of the public’s investment.”

The report is part of a larger research project to analyze the current landscape and understand what has been done to date to improve social equity in the Denver region through increased transit accessibility.

“To date nationally, little research has been done on the impact of light rail investments on new business attraction and job creation, especially for those workers with less than a bachelors’ degree.  This report and related efforts of the Mile High Connects seek to fill those gaps and inform and influence decision-makers on the importance of connecting transit, jobs and workforce development,” said co-author Sadler. “While many communities are being more proactive with their land use planning around transit stations, most of these plans still lack an emphasis on economic and workforce development, and the agencies and community-based groups leading these efforts are often not a part of transportation planning decision-making processes.”

The report was created with support from the Surdna Foundation. “Surdna’s interest in FasTracks and transit oriented development more broadly stems from our commitment to fostering just and sustainable communities – where there is equitable access to transit and good jobs,” stated Surdna's Shawn Escoffery, Program Director of Strong Local Economies. “Studying the impacts on real estate, job creation, and access and workforce development of the completed Southeast line allows a deeper understanding of successes and unintended consequences/challenges of a major transit improvement.”

Key Recommendations for Improving Economic Opportunity in Future Transportation Planning Decisions Include: 

  • Understanding each corridor’s economic strengths and weaknesses.
  • Incorporating economic development into station area and neighborhood plans.
  • Conducting outreach to employers, workforce training providers and other supportive service providers about the benefit of transit.
  • Improving last-mile connections.
  • Engaging community members in the planning discussion.
  • Finding local champions to sell the benefits of transit to other employers, developers and influential decision makers.
  • Thinking comprehensively about services—jobs, housing and work supportive services should be planned and strategically placed in proximity to each other to fully serve workers & residents.