Metro Leaders Look For Transit Ideas In Denver

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ATLANTA,None —

At the base of the Rocky Mountains sits a city that is teaching Metro Atlanta leaders a lot about mass transit.

The city of Denver passed a referendum in 2004 for a sales tax to fund mass transit improvements. It's similar to the 1-cent special local option sales tax metro Atlanta residents will vote on next July.

Local leaders said they got a lot of ideas from Denver about pushing the proposal to the people.

Lee Kemp is the director of Denver's Regional Transportation District or RTD.

"The most important thing is keeping everybody informed," said Kemp. "Everybody's important in this. I don't care if it's the smallest municipality or the smallest area."

Kemp said that was just one of the important lessons Denver officials learned when they took their tax proposal to voters in 2004. At the time, they formed a task force of elected leaders, similar to the one created in Metro Atlanta. The group kept the public informed about projects and the timetable for the projects.

"For the first few years, it's a lot of identifying where the tracks go, what impact it's going to have on the community," Kemp said.

Denver's first phase of its Fast Tracks transit expansion is taking nine years to complete, but that doesn't mean there isn't a lot of activity. Construction crews are working on an area near Union Station where the city's transportation hub will be.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper is the man behind the Fast Tracks program. Before he became governor, he was the mayor of Denver and led the charge for the tax to expand mass transit.

"We went out and did studies and measured every part of the city," said Hickenlooper. "It worked out to roughly a penny a minute. People say my time with my family, if I could spend 60 cents a day to spend an extra hour with either my family or at work, I think that's the key."

The Fast Tracks program also is creating growth in Denver. Several businesses are moving there because of it.

"Companies want easy access to employment bases, so if all you give them is a highway that's congested everyday, they may not go there," said Ryan Mulligan with RTD Transit Oriented Development.

Housing and retail space also are popping up along the mass transit route.

City leaders say the project is a little behind schedule because of the recession. They say Metro Atlanta has an advantage because they are planning and budgeting using today's financial situation.

Still, RTD General Manager Phil Washington said he believes mass transit will be a "got to have" in the near the future.

"People understand that the two biggest expenses in any household is housing and transportation," Washington said. "If you cut down on the cost of that transportation, people will understand that."

 

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