January 21, 2020

The Denver Region Comes Up Short on Transporation Dollars

This morning I joined Mayor Baroch and Councilor Karen Oxman at the elected officials briefing sponsored by the Colorado Department of Transportation. CDOT staff gave updates on some west side projects although most won’t have any direct impact on Golden. More interestingly, Jennifer Schaufele, the executive director of the Denver Regional Council of Governments, sparred a bit with CDOT director Tom Norton over the allocation of transportation dollars across the state. When CDOT started spending money on highway projects at the beginning of the fiscal year (last fall), CDOT staff apparently forgot about their obligation (through Memoranda of Understanding with DRCOG and other regional planning organizations) to equitably distribute transportation dollars across regions of the state. They also seem to have forgotten about their legal obligation to allocate 10% of Senate Bill 1 funds to transit projects. The result is that they are now likely to short the Denver region on transportation dollars by as much as $30 million, and are proposing to allocate the transit dollars (more than $20 million) by cutting that out of the Denver region as well. Jennifer was very clear that DRCOG is unhappy with coming up short by as much as $50 million, and Tom Norton was equally clear that he didn’t much care. As Lorraine Anderson of the Arvada City Council, who sits on the COG board, pointed out during the briefing, COG seems very willing to be flexible (e.g., accept a shortfall this year if CDOT makes up for it next year), but Norton and CDOT seem pretty fixed on violating the agreement that was supposed to ensure a fair sharing of transportation dollars.

Of course there is always a concern about CDOT getting enough money to fund the beltway, but it’s in tension with some very real transportation needs including transit projects. I’ll write more on the beltway fight soon, but suffice it to point out for now how interesting it is that CDOT is picking real fights with Aurora, Douglas County, and communities on the I-70 corridor over what seem to me to be essentially the same issue: CDOT deciding it wants to build something and insisting on making it happen regardless of how it affects the local community, or what the local community’s transportation needs actually are.

DRCOG, if you don’t know, is made up of representatives from 52 local governments across the Denver Metro region. Although its highest profile role is regional transportation planning – most federal transportation dollars to the Denver region have to run through the DRCOG planning process – it also runs strong programs on regional growth planning (the Metro Vision 2030 plan), water and air quality, services for older residents of the region, and public safety programs. I represent Golden on the DRCOG board of directors and serve on the policy committee (known as the Metro Vision Issues Committee).