Nancy Sharpe, Arapahoe County commissioner, Michael P. Lewis, executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation, David Genova, general manager and CEO of the Regional Transportation District, and Lisa Darling, executive director of South Metro Water Supply Authority.
BY FREDA MILKIN
The April 5 meeting of the Denver South Economic Development Partnership (DSEDP) focused on infrastructure. Moderated by Nancy Sharpe, Arapahoe County commissioner and DSEDP board member, it featured David Genova, general manager and CEO of the Regional Transportation District (RTD), Lisa Darling, executive director of South Metro Water Supply Authority (SMWSA), and Michael P. Lewis, executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT).
Sharpe opened the meeting by pointing out that the unique feature of south metro Denver is the longstanding collaborative relationship between business and government.
Genova spoke about transit as an economic driver. Union Station, a $484 million project, is a multimodal hub integrating light rail, commuter rail, Amtrak, buses, taxies, shuttles, bikes and pedestrians. He cited $3 billion of new development around Union Station since it was reconstructed. Genova described the southeast light rail extension, 2.3 miles from Lincoln Avenue to Ridgegate Parkway, as a model of public-private partnership. RTD received $92 million in federal grant funds. Southeast partners contributed $25 million in cash, along with $15 million in right of way permits and other in-kind contributions.
Lisa Darling told the business and government leaders gathered that water is a driver for economic development. SMWSA was formed in 2004 to facilitate a shift toward renewable sources of water, encourage partnerships between local governments and area water providers, invest in supply and storage products, and promote water conservation. When the effort began, only 40 percent of water came from renewable supplies. By 2020, that number will reach 78 percent. Conservation has also been successful, with per capita water demands down 30 percent in the region.
Lewis is in his fifth month at the helm of CDOT, having previously served as deputy executive director and chief operating officer. It is a $1.4 billion agency with 3,000 employees responsible for 23,000 lane miles of highway and 3,447 bridges statewide.
Lewis agrees with many Coloradans that transportation is today’s number one issue. He pointed out that different parts of the state have different transportation concerns. The western slope is focused on how roads serve energy and agriculture, the mountain communities worry about roads working well for tourists, and the front range is most concerned with how to manage traffic resulting from burgeoning population growth.
State and federal gas taxes were last raised 25 years ago, despite significant population growth. As a result, the per capita revenue generated from the gas tax for roads, as of 2015, is half the amount it was in 1991.
Still, CDOT’s mission requires that it respond to the state’s needs by determining what road projects are necessary and seeking funding to execute them. CDOT currently has $6.2 billion in projects on the books, broken down into separate segments, so that they can move forward on a phased basis as funds become available. Those projects include I-25 South: C-470 to Monument (estimated cost $300 million) and I-25 North: Denver to Fort Collins (estimated cost $1.7 billion). The Central I-70 project, between I-25 and Chambers Road, is about to get started, and will fix the worst bridge in Colorado, while reducing travel times by 50 percent in coming years.
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