Looking Back: The Start of the US 36 Mayors & Commissioners Coalition

Will Toor is director of the transportation program at the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP), a Colorado based nonprofit that advocates for energy efficiency in six southwestern states. In this role he works to advance both smart growth transportation strategies and electric vehicles. Prior to working at SWEEP, Will spent 15 years in local government, as mayor of Boulder, Colorado , as Boulder County Commissioner, and as chair of the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG).  He serves on the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission and the Mobility Choice Blueprint board of directors.

Roots in Conflict

I still remember attending my first meeting of the US 36 Major Investment Study (MIS) back in 1998, with my infant son slung across my chest in a Baby Bjorn, soon after I was first elected to Boulder’s city council. Life with an infant was exciting but chaotic – which kind of described the 36 MIS debates. There were so many different perspectives – “We need rail! No, we need to expand US 36 to ten lanes! No, we need HOV lanes and better bus service!”  – coming from the different communities, that we couldn’t reach agreement. And without a consensus on the corridor, it was pretty clear that the outcome would be nothing happening – US 36 would just sit there, getting worse and worse.

Against this backdrop, three mayors began talking about whether we could change the outcome –Tom Davidson from Louisville, Bill Berens from Broomfield and me. At the time, Boulder and Broomfield were locked in conflict over Broomfield’s plans to build the Northwest parkway, and to develop what Boulder viewed as sprawl along 36, and we were pretty much disagreeing about everything. But a series of conversations  – sometimes over coffee, sometimes beer – convinced us that we could find common ground on plans for 36 – and that if we could, that probably the whole corridor could. Out of these conversations the US 36 Mayors & Commissioners Coalition was born.

The Birth of the Coalition

I still remember the day Bill Berens and I testified together in support of the proposed US 36 MIS alternative – the first time people had seen us in public arm in arm instead of arguing. It made a big impression, and helped get RTD and CDOT on board.

And over the years, I think the initial theory was born out in practice. We had lots of vigorous arguments about what transportation investments we should support, and how best to move these forward – but were always able to come to agreement, and to present a unified front to key decision-makers from regional, state and federal agencies. And that unity made all the difference.

Better Together

The coalition successfully resisted pressure from the Owens administration to add more highway lanes and hundreds of millions of dollars in cost. The years of effort promoting a true multimodal project with Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), HOT lanes and a bikeway on the highway corridor paid off when the federal government provided a $10 million TIGER grant and a TIFIA challenge grant, championed by Congressman Polis. The unity paid off when, amazingly, the Coalition was able to leverage that $10 million grant and TIFIA challenge into a $500 million project that combined funding from RTD, CDOT, DRCOG, federal funds and the private sector. It took a while to go from concept to an actual BRT service on 36 (my infant son graduated from high school about the time that 36 was completed), but much of the original vision was realized.

The challenges clearly aren’t over – for example, we need to complete the missing elements of BRT on 36 and complete the arterial BRT corridors that connect to the corridor – but looking back over the last twenty years I’m amazed how far we have come by working together.

Happy Anniversary to CDOT’s US 36 Express Lanes Project

This time last year, we were celebrating the completion of CDOT’s US 36 Express Lanes Project, one of the largest construction projects in Colorado! This summer, we are pleased to share that the efforts and patience of the traveling public during construction has paid off. A model for the nation, the US 36 Express Lanes Project took an innovative approach to traffic congestion along US 36 and incorporates multimodal transportation that increases commuter options, in addition to an innovative financing mechanism through CDOT’s first Public-Private Partnership (P3). CDOT’s US 36 Express Lanes Project gives travelers in the northwest metro region a choice to zip past traffic in the US Express Lanes, Bus Rapid Transit services or along the US 36 Bikeway for today and into the future.

We are proud to share that RTD’s Flatiron Flyer has played a critical role in increasing bus ridership. With stations serviced every 15 minutes and the regional bus route transporting 14,500 riders every day, it is no surprise that ridership is up by nearly 50 percent. While the Flatiron Flyer is transporting a record number of commuters every day, the US 36 Express Lanes are playing a critical role in keeping people moving, whether on the bus or in a car. Since the opening of the US 36 Express Lanes, CDOT has seen lane speeds increase on certain days by as much as 29 percent faster than ever before! Not only are a record number of commuters reaching their final destinations, but they are getting there quicker. In addition to RTD Flatiron Flyer and US 36 Express Lanes ridership growth, the cycling community along the US 36 Bikeway is rapidly expanding! Since the Bikeway has opened, 175,707 cyclists and pedestrians have traveled along the bikeway to make an important transit connection and connect to new communities in our region.

While commuters and residents in the northwest metro region travel easily to their destinations, our work to increase mobility and connect the communities in our region is not over yet! We are continuing to work closely with our partners to find the sweet spot between transportation options, public-private partnerships, and technology.

An example of the intersect between transit and technology is the emergence of real-time transit apps. In three simple steps, commuters in our region can download Transit on their Apple or Android device to receive real-time transit updates, compare commute options and locate bike shelters and bike share stations nearby. To learn more about Transit please visit the Boulder County website.

At Commuting Solutions, we are proud of the innovation and collaboration that continues to propel our region into the future. We want to say thank you to our partners who played a critical role in CDOT’s US 36 Express Lanes Project and continue to advance multimodal transportation in our community. Without Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT); Denver Regional Councils of Governments (DRCOG); High Performance Transportation Enterprise (HPTE); Plenary Roads Denver and the Regional Transportation District (RTD), we would not be able to continue to bring commuter options to the northwest metro region. In the coming months, we hope to see the implementation of a regional bike share program, consistent wayfinding signage installed throughout the region and increased ridership of our transit services.

Free Ride on US 36 Express Lanes for CU Boulder’s Graduation on May 7

Plenary Roads Denver waives tolls to thank commuters and communities along corridor as US 36 project completion draws near – Go Buffs!

BOULDER, CO – May 4, 2016 Plenary Roads Denver (PRD) today announced that tolls on US 36 Express Lanes will be waived for University of Colorado’s graduation on Saturday, May 7. This one-time free toll day will be effective from 6-9:30 a.m. in westbound lanes from Federal Boulevard through Foothills Parkway toll points and from 3-6:30 p.m. in eastbound lanes from Foothills Parkway through Federal Boulevard toll points.

“As we near completion of this multi-modal project, we want to recognize the commuters and community members along the US 36 corridor who have been patient with us during construction. We’d also like to congratulate CU graduates and their family and friends who will be traveling to and from Boulder on graduation day by offering complimentary use of the US 36 Express Lanes,” said Terry Ostrom, PRD Senior Vice President. “We’ve seen many benefits of this project, with commuters now having access to biking, carpooling, transit, Express Lane travel options and reliable travel times, that we are excited to celebrate with our communities in this way.”

The US 36 Express Lanes Project is a multi-modal, public-private partnership led by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), the Colorado High Performance Transportation Enterprise (HPTE), and PRD. The project includes two free general purpose lanes in each direction, one tolled Express Lane in each direction, and a bikeway along the US 36 corridor  – offering users the choice to ride the bus, carpool, bike, use the two free reconstructed general purpose lanes or pay a toll in the Express Lanes.

HPTE Director and former CU student David Spector said, “I think waived tolls are a great graduation gift to CU graduates and their families. PRD is a new partner with HPTE and the community, and we thank them for doing it. Go Buffs!”

#ForeverBuffs

About Plenary Roads Denver

Plenary Roads Denver (PRD) is a Denver-based consortium of industry leading firms established to efficiently deliver improvements to the US 36 corridor. By creating a team of experts from each part of the infrastructure industry, PRD is able to ensure an integrated roadway, bus rapid transit system, and bikeway that serve the needs of all residents. PRD ‘s team consists of Ames Construction, Granite Construction, HDR and Broadspectrum, and is led by Plenary Group, an investor, developer and operator of public infrastructure projects in the United States, Canada, and Australia. Plenary Group’s U.S. headquarters is located in Los Angeles, California, with an additional office in Denver, Colorado.

Flatiron Flyer buses OK to drive on U.S. 36 shoulders starting May 1

By Mitchell Byars
Staff Writer, Daily Camera

Drivers on U.S. 36 might notice a strange new sight passing to their right next week.

The Regional Transportation District’s fleet of Flatiron Flyer buses have been given the go-ahead to drive on the shoulder to get around slow-moving traffic on U.S. 36 beginning Sunday as the result of a bill passed by the state Legislature last month.

“The road improvements to the shoulder thanks to the U.S. 36 Express Lanes project will provide an additional resource for our buses to keep moving efficiently,” RTD general manager Dave Genova said in a statement. “Being able to utilize the shoulder during traffic congestion will allow the Flatiron Flyer to continue to provide reliable service at all times.”

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