Cripple Creek’s Dream of a Vintage Streetcar Trolley System May Get Revitalized

Nearly $100 Million Alternate Transportation and Revitalization Project Proposed

Rick Langenberg

The dream of creating an elaborate, historic streetcar trolley system in Cripple Creek, aimed at revisiting the past and offering ideal transportation opportunities for residents and visitors, and capped with a mega transportation center, were unveiled last week.

However, the much touted project that has experienced its share of past lives, is still in in the planning stages, with a price tag of $75 million-plus. Don’t gasp yet, as city leaders say this effort is grant-driven, with the bulk of the dollars coming from Uncle Sam and the state.

Cripple Creek Transportation Director Ted Schweitzer said the project’s future now rests in the laps of city leaders. If granted the green light by the council, he plans to pursue major grant opportunities.  Currently, a reported jackpot of grants is available for alternate transportation systems, such as trolleys and streetcar systems.

Cripple Creek has an added vantage due to its historic link with a streetcar trolley system at the peak of the gold rush boom.

Last week, a room-full of business owners, city employees and residents got a glimpse of the streetcar transit vision, calling for a nearly $50 million transportation/operations center and even a streetcar museum. Plans were rolled out by the Colorado-based AECOM consultants at a work session on April 6.  The streetcar system would feature several miles of track with the vintage streetcars, operating through a diesel electric or hybrid network, expected to travel down Bennett Myers Avenue and Carbonate Street and access key areas, such as the medical center, in future phases.

“This isn’t just a tourist attraction,” said Carla Kenyon of the AECOM company, who sees this a definite boom for visitors, but also as a practical way to get around town for residents. She said the program calls for three to five streetcar vehicles and a projected annual operations cost for the city of between $150,000 to $200,000. It would require the addition of two more full-time city employees to operate.

The consultants outlined in detail the specific routes the streetcar system would take and even the pricing for users, along with phasing of the project. A daily pass for the streetcar trolley is estimated at $5 a day.

Plans call mostly wo directions of streetcar travel, and the installation of two miles of track.

The costs of the streetcar system are highly dependent on how environmentally-friendly the city wants to get in the transportation arena, with a fully-electric system posting the most expensive price tag. But on the upside, this type of system could permit more grant dollars.

The price tag of implementing the historic trolley system, with the tracks and associated vehicles, could range between $30 million and $50 million, according to the consultants.

A Grandiose Transportation Facility

The parts of the presentation, though, they grabbed most of the attention, hinged on plans for a $46.2 million transit bus/streetcar operation center. This would provide parking for the town’s current fleet of bus vehicles and trolleys, and a support area for the streetcars and a commercial office area. It also would come equipped with a streetcar museum.

“This will support community connectivity and leverage the culture of Cripple Creek,” said Aaron Harcek of AECOM, in describing the vision of the transportation center.

He described the project as blend between efforts to “bring a needed transportation facility to Cripple Creek, but bringing back the past.” The transportation program would be comprised of four main components: a streetcar support area, bus maintenance, parking and office space.

This historic link has been stressed in past streetcar trolley revitalization pursuits that never really progressed.

The proposed 134,000-square-foot, five-level facility, would be located near the Gold King Mountain Inn, at the entrance to Cripple Creek.

The council and public reacted positively to the plan.  Most questions hinged on how such a streetcar system would work in Cripple Creek with the current mountain grades and  the tough climate and the timing of the project. Concerns were raised about the actual construction components, and if this would clash with the current tourism and visitor traffic.

Consultants didn’t see any major hurdles in addressing these challenges. But they cautioned that some steps still must get pursued prior to any construction occurs, such as having an environmental assessment of the proposed streetcar trolley route. In addition, certain land and real estate acquisition steps may have to take place.

No discussion occurred, though, regarding the touchy subject  of project funding.

These dollars, according to Schweitzer, would mostly come from the federal government.

The development of the current streetcar planning study and transportation facility design are the first major steps in the process. These studies were mostly funded by federal/state government funding dollars, with the city having to come up with an approximate $30,000 match.

Schweitzer stated, following last week’s presentation, that the consultants wanted to present the initial “pie in the sky” plans. He conceded that portions of the program, such as what is located in the transportation facility, could get reduced in scope.

Not a New Vision

The idea of revitalizing the city’s old streetcar trolley system isn’t new and was briefly explored about 15 to 20 years ago. A previous consultant study concluded that a streetcar trolley system would be ideal as part of an overall heritage tourism development plan.

At the time, consultants didn’t believe a streetcar trolley system alone could be self-sustaining.

Previous trolley efforts have resulted in a few political battles over the years, with some leaders lauding such pursuits, but others saying the city needs to concentrate on more practical needs.

However, the availability of more grant dollars has reopened the door for this streetcar dream that appeared dead a decade ago.