Colorado Regional Leaders Gather to Talk Transportation

Boulder, Boulder County and the University of Colorado are each updating their transportation master plans this year, and their leaders said such planning efforts are important to reduce emissions and ease the crush of commuters.

by Cassa Niedringhaus Daily Camera, / March 22, 2019
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(TNS) — Local, regional and state leaders gathered at Boulder's Millennium Harvest House on Thursday to discuss how they could work together in addressing transportation issues in the area.

Boulder, Boulder County and the University of Colorado are each updating their transportation master plans this year, and their leaders said such planning efforts are important to address, among other issues, goals to reduce emissions and ease the crush of commuters moving through the region in cars.

"We have to work together," Boulder County Transportation Director George Gerstle said in introducing the Thursday panel. "We have to work with our partners throughout the county. Increasingly, we have to work with our partners outside the county."

A growing proportion of workers and students are commuting to Boulder County, including to Boulder and Longmont, and they're coming from farther and farther away, including from Broomfield, Weld, Larimer and Adams counties, he said.

The panelists agreed no one government or other entity could address the issue working alone.

"Regionalism is the way of the future," Boulder Mayor Suzanne Jones said.

Many lamented the failure in November's election of Proposition 110, a state sales tax increase that would have raised up to $767 million in its first year and funded road projects, and they discussed possible alternate funding strategies, such as federal grants.

Shoshana Lew, the new executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation, said leaders need to talk more about what they're paying for and less about how to pay for it.

"We could go around and around and around on the different mechanisms to pay for infrastructure," she said. "... I think we need to flip the conversation."

If you're trying to sell someone a house, she said, you wouldn't talk to them first about the differences in various mortgages. Instead, you would paint a picture about what their life would be like living there. In the same way, leaders should paint a compelling picture of what they're trying to do, with a focus on outcomes, and then ask people to pay for it.

The shortfalls in funding are apparent in many places, said Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones, but "nowhere is that funding shortfall more acute than with transit."

She cited a challenged relationship with the Regional Transportation District. RTD board representative Lynn Guissinger acknowledged the agency's funding issues, and said she would like to see increasing collaboration and cooperation with the city and county.

Panelists also discussed RTD's College Pass and EcoPass programs and how they might be expanded to further encourage use, as well as strategies to make various commuting options more convenient.

"It's absolutely a critical issue for us," Boulder Chamber President and CEO John Tayer said. "... We need to make that commute more convenient."

David Kang, CU's vice chancellor for Infrastructure & Sustainability, said he depended on transit options during his time living in Washington, D.C.

"It was easier and faster to take the bus or the train than to drive," he said. "... We've got to provide options for people that are affordable and convenient."

Panelists also talked about transportation's inextricable link with housing. For his part, Tayer said, it includes not just making the commute more convenient but allowing for more housing in the communities where people are working so they don't have to commute in the first place.

Panelists also looked toward the future, and what creative ways they might tackle transportation issues.

Kang said that in CU's planning efforts, for example, they've looked to allow flexibility for the ways in which technology will change.

"There are things that are possible five to 10 years from now that we can't even think about," Kang said.

He also pointed to CU as a lab in which ideas could be tested and researched by students and faculty through partnerships with the community.

During the discussion, panelists also touched upon Boulder's controversial project and reversal to "right-size" Folsom Street in 2015.

"It should not define us as a community in our approach to experimenting on transportation issues," Jones said. "I think we need to take what we can from it, and try some new stuff. It's been a few years. We can do it again, do it better.

"We do need to get back in the saddle. Boulder needs to own innovation again."

Boulder is developing its 2019 transportation master plan update, with the aim of releasing a draft plan for community review and comment in the coming months. Community members now can provide feedback on Be Heard Boulder. To learn more about Boulder's efforts, visit bouldercolorado.gov/transportation/tmp.

CU and the county are updating their transportation master plans this year, too.

©2019 the Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.