Why Denver Got On The FasTrack

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - June 08, 2005
| Del.icio.us

Colorado cast its seven electoral votes for George W. Bush in 2000. And in 2004, after the first few weeks of the campaign, it moved from being a battleground state into the Bush column and again supported the president.

Yet beneath its red state presidential surface, Colorado blotted blue. For the first time in decades, Democrats won control of both houses of the state Legislature. They also picked up a congressional seat; and, in a hotly contested United States Senate race, popular Democratic Secretary of State Ken Salazar defeated beer magnate Peter Coors.

It’s a fascinating state whose economic mix corresponds to its political balance. Agriculture and technology dominate the eastern half of the state, ski tourism and mining the western. Colorado residents enjoy great natural beauty and a climate that offers sunshine 300 days of the year. But they also know appalling pollution at the state’s higher elevations.

As in Denver, a metropolitan region of 2.4 million people who last fall approved a sales tax hike of .4 percent to finance something called FasTracks, a $4.7 billion project that will build 119 miles of track, adding six new mass transit lines and expanding two existing lines. The project will be completed in 2016.

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper has called it “the most ambitious local transit project in our nation’s history” and claims that, when completed, it “is expected to benefit more than half a million riders daily.”

How were Denver voters persuaded to approve such a gargantuan, expensive project?

“We were specific about what these new increments were — about what the voters were paying for,” says former Hawaii resident Amy Mueller, a deputy manager in Denver’s Department of Public Works. “In 1997, the City pushed something called Guide to Ride, and the voters rejected it.

“Almost immediately the City began the planning of what became FasTracks. And the City organized, bringing nonprofits, businesses, and various government entities into the planning process.”

Mueller herself exemplifies the new, young planners who are spurring the development of mass transit systems in cities across the country. Mueller graduated from Mililani High School in 1988. She attended Colorado State University and the University of Denver, earning degrees in political science and public administration.

Mueller lobbied the Colorado state Legislature for the Colorado Students Association and Lockheed-Martin Corporation before joining Gov. Richard Roemer’s administration in 1997. When Roemer left office two years later, Mueller went to work for the City of Boulder. Last year she moved over to Denver.

“I love Colorado and my life there,” she says. “But I love Hawaii too. It’s a beautiful place, but there’s less land than in Colorado — less room for error. You can’t put 10 lanes of traffic down the middle of your main traffic corridor. It’s important for Honolulu to figure out its mass transit needs and work through the problem.”

Mueller feels that Honolulu must act now: “If Oahu has a congestion problem, that means the city should have acted 10 years ago.” She feels that land use and transportation issues “are always tied together.” If, in short, more housing units are being built on the Ewa plain, something must be done about traffic.

“There are only two ways to solve the problem: Move jobs out of Honolulu or build a rapid transit system,” says Mueller.

But how do you get people out of their cars and onto the trains?

“By making rapid transit more appealing: more comfortable than driving, faster, more convenient, cheaper than driving and parking in a crowded downtown area. Good branding and marketing help as well.” That’s good advice from a proud daughter of Hawaii.

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