Cal Marsella’s Impact on Arvada


by Shelley Cook

Last week RTD dedicated the train platforms at Union Station in memory of former General Manager Cal Marsella. Among many accomplishments, the plaque notes that Cal is considered the ‘Father of FasTracks.’ Less known is his influence on Arvada’s transportation outcomes — and prospects for the CLRC/Ralston Road neighborhoods.

Dedication plaque — click to enlarge text

Cal came to RTD in the mid-1990s, a challenging time, with turmoil on the board and restive constituencies. Here in Arvada many were deeply unhappy about what they viewed as a lack of planning and service for the area. Just months before Cal arrived, a hundred residents had packed a small meeting room at the Arvada Center, angry at “The Missing Link” in the District’s transit plan. Indeed, the agency’s future transit map showed nothing, a gaping hole, between the West Corridor along 13th Avenue and US 36 to the north.

A consummate professional, Cal dealt equally with his board members and the concerns of their Districts. But he quickly grew to treasure Arvada’s newest board member, Terri Binder, marveling at her native political sense, caring personality, and unimpeachable character.

And he liked Arvada, especially what he saw as the community’s can-do attitude. That fit his approach, too; Cal was an unusually open sort, willing to consider new ideas, unshackled by popular wisdom. Before Cal came along Terri had worked to get the Skyride AA bus service going, the first time that Arvada was connected to DIA by transit. Now with Cal at the helm she could study all sorts of changes to improve the community’s bus service, and agency staff would work collaboratively to flesh them out.

Then came the big feat: a Corridor, what planners and politicos call ‘a line on the map,’ the condition precedent for any major investment in the transportation world. It was our Gold Line. (Originally the Beer Line, but Arvada historian Lois Lindstrom Kennedy quickly put the kibosh on that name – no, it would instead commemorate the first documented gold find in Colorado, right here in Arvada, next to the Corridor’s right of way.) Cal’s sunny nature and conviction about the possibilities gave RTD staff members the wherewithal to find an approach whose numbers worked. And Terri’s skillfulness on the board brought the line to approval.

Some years later, when RTD’s revenues plummeted after 9/11, the Skyride from Arvada to DIA was imperiled. FasTracks was yet to be passed; not only would we lose the service, its loss might damage the standing of the Gold Line in the same corridor. Cal, approached by the community to consider an alternative – a public-private shuttle dubbed the A-Line – said in typical fashion, “Let’s give it a whirl!” It was a response that captured him, his outlook and readiness to make things happen, perfectly.

Shelley Cook is a former Arvada City Council member and General Manager for Ride Provide, the operator of the A-Line shuttle.

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This Tuesday Night: Fitzmorris Pool & Rec Center’s Last Public Meeting


This is a reminder that the final public meeting to review earlier community feedback and what’s happening with the design for the Center will be held this Tuesday, February 21st, from 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm.  The open-house meeting will be held in the Fitzmorris Elementary School gymnasium at 6250 Independence Street, Arvada, CO.  The pool and recreation center are part of a package of Apex recreation projects approved by Arvada voters last May.  This project is being supplemented with funds from the City of Arvada.

Construction should start this year, and the facility is expected to open in 2018.  Come and provide your input for the proposed design features.  The City Staff may also have some information about the City of Arvada’s plan to apply for a development grant for the adjacent Fitzmorris Park later this year.

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You can find out more about the pool and recreation center at this link:

http://arvada.org/explore/sports-recreation/ralston-neighborhood-recreation-center-and-pool

To find out about the City’s GOCO grant application for Fitzmorris Park, which is a separate project from the Apex pool and recreation center project, you can go to this link:

http://arvada.org/explore/open-space-nature/fitzmorris-park

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 2016 Neighborhood Wrap-up and a Look into 2017


by John Kiljan

Dear CLRC neighbors and friends,

For the last couple of years I’ve written an early-year summary of what’s been happening in central Arvada with a look toward the future of the city in the coming year.  Since I still get fairly frequent “What’s happening in Arvada?” questions from CLRC followers, and since those previous articles have had a decent number of readers, I thought I’d try another one for 2017.

But before you read what’s here, do take a moment to read an excellent year-end-in-Arvada article by Arvada Press reporter Shanna Fortier at this link.  It’s a better (and more concise) article than this one, and it covers Arvada as a whole.  All I have to offer here is some supplemental information that might be of interest to those living in the central part of Arvada.

http://arvadapress.com/stories/A-look-back-at-2016-celebration-tragedy-challenges,240867

THE GOLD LINE
Let’s start the past year’s happenings with the Gold Line commuter rail service to Denver Union Station (DUS).  RTD has changed the name of the Gold Line to the “G-Line”, although both names are still in use.  It has similarly changed the name of the Airport Line running from Union Station to the “A-Line” (now officially called the “University of Colorado A-Line”), causing some confusion for the former users of the now-defunct A-Line airport shuttle service that operated from Arvada until November of last year.

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By now, everyone knows that the October 2016 Gold Line grand opening celebrations were cancelled, as was the live (and noisy) cars-on-the-track testing of the commuter rail train which is needed before the line can safely start operating.  Why?  Simply put, it’s because the software that runs the crossing gates is not working as it is supposed to.

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This situation has the potential to be either 1) dangerous, or 2) to cause unwelcomed traffic delays on Arvada’s streets because the gates are coming down sooner than they need to, as well as staying down for too long after the trains have passed their crossings – or both.  The rumors from the 24/7 crossing guards now stationed at every at-grade road crossing along the G-Line is that this is not so much about safety as it is about the second problem.  And this seems to be what is making life difficult for the contractors trying to get the train up and running.

But it’s worse than that.

Anticipating an October Gold Line opening, Arvada’s Ride Provide shut down its popular A-Line direct-to-DIA shuttle service from Olde Town at the end of that month.  Ride Provide doesn’t seem to have had much choice.  Their drivers were already lining up new jobs, and their ageing vehicles were going to require more funding to keep them safely operating through the winter.

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In the meantime, the federal government has been threatening to shut down the other A-line (the RTD commuter-rail train going from Denver Union Station to the airport with six stops along the way).  That A-Line is having the same problems our own G-Line is having with their gates not operating properly.  In November, the A-Line service was given a three month extension of their operating permit by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), provided the contractors showed an effort to fix the problems.

The federal government also said that the extensive testing needed on the G-Line (something that has to happen before it can operate) cannot begin until the problems with the A-Line have been fixed.  And it gets worse.  Since the G-Line shares the right of way with the Burlington Northern freight line going to Golden, the FRA is requiring at least two flag people at each at-grade crossing along the line.  Those flaggers are there 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.  If you take the A-Line to the airport from DUS, you will also see at least two flaggers at each of those crossings – also working 24/7.

There is a long list of not-so-happy people because of these developments.  Those include

– the people who were counting on riding the Gold LIne to work last fall,

– the local merchants counting on the increase in business the Gold Line was expected to bring to Arvada,

– the builders, the Denver Transit Partners (DTP), who were counting on getting operating revenue from the line, and who are having to pay for all those flaggers,

– the former users of Ride Provide’s shuttle service to DIA,

– the Arvada Urban Renewal Authority, who is being held up on their redevelopment plans for the current RTD park-and-ride location,

– the federal government, who contributed about a billion dollars to the cost of building the G-line and the A-Line as a showcase public-private partnership,

– every elected government official who has to explain to their constituents what is happening,

– that includes the members of the RTD board itself, whose members seemed to be unaware of how serious the delay would be until just weeks before it was announced,

– and, finally, the flaggers themselves, who are having to sit or stand through what has become a bitterly cold winter and who have little to do during their Arvada shifts.  Only about five Burlington Northern trains a day pass down the line.

Also, the RTD board voted to budget $500,000 to set up a new hourly bus service from the Olde Town park-and-ride direct to Denver Union Station, where riders can transfer to the A-Line to DIA running every 15 minutes during most of the day.  It takes about 20 minutes to get to DUS (1 hour 15 minutes all the way to DIA).  The new bus service is called the 55S, and there is more information on how to use it in a reference below.

Temporary RTD contracted 55S non-stop service from Olde Town to Denver Union Station

The RTD 55S non-stop service from Olde Town to Denver Union Station, temporarily run as a contracted service

When will the testing on the Gold Line resume (with all those train horns sounding again) and the line open for passenger service afterward?  No one knows, but it doesn’t look like it will be soon.  In recounting a meeting with RTD’s General Manager in late November, Arvada’s mayor, Marc Williams, was heard to say, “The earliest we’re going to see is first quarter [of 2017].  It could conceivably go into as late as June.”

ARVADA’S OLDE TOWN TRANSIT HUB
That’s the name of the new parking garage being built on the south side of the tracks between the Olde Town movie theater and Grandview Avenue.  It is intended to be a replacement for the current park-and-ride just east of Vance Street in Olde Town, and it’s nearly finished.  (Although the last time I looked, the hands were still not on the big clock.)  Despite not having an operating Gold Line, it’s supposed to open sometime close to the end of January, but I haven’t yet seen a date on either RTD’s or the City’s websites.

Olde Town Transit Hub concept drawing

Olde Town Transit Hub concept drawing

Not only should the new garage go a long way to ease Olde Town’s chronic parking problems, when it opens it will also allow bus boardings and transfers to be made out of the weather on the lower garage level where the buses will pick  up their passengers.  Well maybe not at first, since the existing park-and-ride may still be needed for a while after the hub opens.  RTD may have more buses running than can fit into the new building at first.

After the Gold Line is up and running, the transit district is supposed to be looking at all of the bus lines running into Olde Town and deciding which ones can be cut back because they duplicate the G-Line train service.  Only after that happens will the old park-and-ride lot be shut down and the land turned over to urban renewal to bring in new housing and retail.

By the way, despite rumors that it might close down, the adjacent Landmark Theatre should stay open.  However, it will have a new operator, Harkins Theatres, who now operates a movie theater in east Denver.  The new operators may also do some improvements to the theater when they take it over.

SOLANA
On the other side of the Wadsworth Bypass, the Solana high-end and very green (figuratively and literally) apartment development along 56th Avenue is moving at a fast pace.  They are expected to open their first units up for lease this May.  Don’t worry about the green color you see when driving by.  It is supposed to be replaced with earth tones when complete.

Solana apartments as seen from 56th Avenue

Solana apartments as seen from 56th Avenue

Meanwhile, its predecessor, the new Park Place Olde Town apartments next to McIlvoy Park, have proved to be pretty popular.  They are now said to be 100% leased out – about a year sooner than was first expected.

Park Place Olde Town

Park Place Olde Town

And we have a new and nicely landscaped park!  The pocket park was built by the developer adjacent to the Solana site at the top of the hill.  It is now complete from what I can see. However, the construction fencing is still up.  Once it is down (in May?) there will be free public access to the park, which is only a short walk along Grandview from the heart of Olde Town.  However, the swimming pool there will be for Solana residents only.

Across the fence view of the pocket park and the Solana apartments

An across-the-fence view of the pocket park and the Solana apartments

HILTON GARDEN INN
Arvada’s new hotel is moving even faster.  The building is expected to be complete in January, but it will still have to be fitted out with things like furniture before people can stay there.  A different company than the one constructing the building does that job.  Currently, the hotel is expected to open on March 1st with some sort of grand opening ceremony in April when the weather is likely to be better.  If you, or your friends or relatives, want to stay there, you can book online.  But that online system will only book from May 1st onward.  However, the developers say that if you want a reservation for March or April, that can be had by calling them and making the reservation over the telephone.

Hilton Garden Inn on Olde Wadsworth Blvd

Hilton Garden Inn on Olde Wadsworth Blvd

THE NINE ACRE SITE
This is the site is where the current RTD park-and-ride in Olde Town is now.  The developer seems to be struggling a bit with this one – mostly because the area is relatively small, much of the land is sloping, and because a 60-inch storm sewer runs diagonally through it.  The sewer cannot have a building put on top of it.  As mentioned above, the delay in getting the Gold Line running is also delaying this project.  It will take nine months to a year after RTD gives up the current park-and-ride site for construction to begin.  All of that makes it difficult to attract retail businesses and to find investors for the multi-family housing needed to make the retail work.

The first casualty of that difficulty seems to be the grocery store that was going to be located just north of 55th Avenue in the earlier concept plans.  Despite the drive-by traffic, the developer says they cannot find anyone willing to locate a small grocery store on the site.  They have given up trying.  Reportedly, the developers have asked every grocery store in Colorado, and quite a few from outside the state, to look at locating on the site.  They were turned down by all of them because there are better sites available to them for expansion.

Nine Acre site concept plan. The orange units are planned for townhomes

Nine Acre site concept plan. The orange units are planned for townhomes

The good news is that the new street that runs through the site has opened up – complete with a promised signalized intersection on the Wadsworth Bypass.  CDOT, who decides these things because it is a State highway, may make further changes to the intersection just to the south at 55th Avenue, but they have decided not to remove that signal altogether.  Apparently, they are doing that because of the potential impact on local merchants whose customers are using it now.

The other good news is that the developer has not given up on getting a pharmacy to locate on the site, and a couple of companies may be interested.  If that happens, there may be a small grocery section included in it – something similar to the food section in the Walgreens located near Arvada High School.

WALMART
Once Walmart finally started construction on their new Supercenter on Ralston Road at Independence Street, it moved along pretty fast, and there were rumors that they could open as soon as late February or March.  Not anymore.  It seems that, due to an oversight on the part of the builders, they neglected to install a required floor vapor barrier and ventilation system in their building.  That’s a hazmat requirement, and its installation will delay the opening by two months.  Currently, Walmart is expected to open in early June.

The Ralston Road Walmart is expected to open in June of 2017

The Ralston Road Walmart is expected to open in June of 2017

RALSTON CREEK NORTH
Across the street in Arvada Square (also known as Ralston Creek North), progress is slowing for what is planned to be an $80 million project containing both retail and multi-family housing.  The old Safeway building, Big-O Tires, Triangle Liquors, and the catering building have all been pulled down.  But construction has still not started on the Phase I replacement buildings.  The problem is financing.  Apparently, the banks want to see at least 50% of the new retail units preleased before they will advance the money needed for construction, and the developer is not quite there yet.

Earlier, that requirement didn’t seem to be a problem, and construction was to have begun by the end of 2016.  But some of the restaurants that were expected to agree to locate there are instead choosing to move to the new restaurant plaza being built in the Arvada Marketplace.  That’s the location next to the Sports Authority store on 52nd that closed in bankruptcy last year.  Arvada Marketplace has a lot more drive-by traffic going down Wadsworth than Arvada Square does on Ralston Road.  So the Arvada Marketplace is where at least some hoped-for tenants have chosen to locate to instead.

The food plaza being built in the Arvada Marketplace

The food plaza being built in the Arvada Marketplace

Still, the developer is planning to break ground on the Ralston Creek North Phase I site (where the Big-O Tires was) sometime this March, with the new shops opening in the coming fall.  In the meantime, Phase II of Ralston Creek North, the strip mall which has the Chuck E Cheese in it, will not begin construction until about a year after Phase I starts.  The existing strip-mall tenants were told they could stay on with a month-to-month lease, probably into 2018, if they wanted to.

But they are deciding to leave anyway as new leasing opportunities open up nearby.  The list of early departures includes the higher-volume Family Dollar, Chuck E Cheese and the Treasure Pot businesses.  Soon the building is expected to be more than half empty, and that’s creating problems for urban renewal.  As more tenants leave, there is less traffic for those few remaining.

And because of the vacancies, the building is starting to attract graffiti, vandalism and homeless squatters in the same way Arvada Plaza across the street did in its last days.  The roof and plumbing are also in poor shape in this 1956-vintage building.  Urban renewal is facing a decision on whether they should pull the building down now, or wait instead until sometime in 2018 to do that.

In addition to avoiding the cost of heat, lighting, maintenance and security for the building, empty land is generally more attractive to potential developers and investors than properties that have half-empty buildings sitting on them.

Architect showing the design concepts for Ralston Creek North's Phase II development

Developer’s architect showing the design concepts for Ralston Creek North’s Phase II development

It might be a difficult decision.  Urban renewal doesn’t want to raze buildings before they need to.  But despite the developer at Arvada Ridge starting on a new 298-unit apartment complex next to the community college this summer, in general, the real estate market for multi-family housing (which Phase II mostly is) seems to be cooling.  Financing is becoming harder to get with rising interest rates and requests for 50% up-front financing from lenders.  Moreover, some are projecting the next recession could happen as soon as the end of 2018.  During a recession, most new real estate investments and lending will stop.  A decision by the AURA Board of Commissioners on what to do with the remaining Ralston Creek North property is expected by early February.  Demolition would be done in the spring if that’s what is decided.

KING SOOPERS AND KMART
Throughout 2016 I’d heard rumors that King Soopers, just to the west of Arvada Square on 58th Avenue, was planning a $3 million upgrade to their store in 2017 to better compete with Walmart when it opens.  That grocery store could certainly use it.  The new rumor is that the upgrade will cost $4 to $5 million, and it may be as late as 2019 in coming.  Apparently, Kings is now concentrating on building a new store at Candelas six months ahead of what was originally scheduled.  The City Council offered the company a partial sales tax rebate if they would do that, because that part of Arvada currently has so little available retail.

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The nearby Kmart is not rumored to be spending anything at all on improvements for their store.  The company has been operating at a loss for some time, and they have been closing stores across the country.  Colorado now has only seven Kmarts left.

And two more of those (one in Denver and another in Grand Junction) are now scheduled to close in the first quarter of the year as part of a plan to shut down another 108 Kmarts across the country.  Market reports on the internet suggest that some of their suppliers have cut back deliveries during the holidays because they are worried that Kmart’s parent company, Sears Holdings, may soon declare bankruptcy, and they won’t be paid.  The company has also been trying to sell off its better-known brands such as Craftsman, Kenmore and DieHard to meet its cash flow needs.

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TACO BELL/KFC
Speaking of upgrades, the Taco Bell/Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet located on the corner of Garrison Street and Ralston Road, has just completed an upgrade of their restaurant, both inside and out, that cost over a quarter of a million dollars.  To me, the outside now looks like a large box of fried chicken, which is strangely appealing.  Inside is definitely an improvement.  Apparently, the company, Yum! Brands, thinks there is a good future for this location.  Additional AURA-sponsored “streetscaping” is planned for the corner and the sidewalk leading up to building for later this year.

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Behind the Taco Bell there is another building planned, but it is hard to get information about it, other than it is still owned by IRG, the developer who got Walmart to locate in Arvada Plaza.  There are rumors that another developer will be buying it, and an urgent-care medical facility will be locating there.  This would be a less-expensive healthcare option than an emergency room.  And it would complement the UC Health ER facility across the street in Arvada Square.  That existing 24-hour-a-day ER facility is intended to treat more serious problems than an urgent-care clinic can handle.

FITZMORRIS POOL AND REC FACILITY
A big event in 2016 was the voters passing Apex’s bond renewal proposal.  That will be bringing improvements to the Lutz/Stenger sports fields on 58th Avenue, to the tennis courts on Miller Street and a small neighborhood swimming pool and recreation center to the Fitzmorris elementary school, as well as recreation improvements in other parts of the city.  Initially, it was hoped by many that construction on the Fitzmorris pool could be completed in 2017, but that now seems unlikely.  The construction bonds seem to have been issued, but the intergovernmental agreement with the City and Jeffco schools has yet to be executed.  That’s needed before the final design work can begin.

Design concept for a pool and rec center at Fitzmorris Park

Design concept for a pool and rec center at Fitzmorris Park

The $4.9 million Fitzmorris pool and recreation center is being paid for mostly with City of Arvada funds, but the facility will be operated and maintained by the Apex recreation district – except for the management of the expanded parking lot which will be done by the school district along with its snow removal.  The project is now expected to be completed sometime in 2018.

ROAD MAINTENANCE SALES TAX
What did not pass in 2016 was a proposed sales tax to step up road maintenance and construction in the City by $9 million a year.  That down vote was despite earlier polls conducted by the City saying that road maintenance should be a high priority and that there was considerable support for an additional City sales tax for that purpose.

taxincreaseroadsbarchart

Distressed pavement in Alta Vista neighborhood

Distressed pavement in the Alta Vista neighborhood

What the Arvada City Council will do to keep up the City’s roads hasn’t been decided yet, but high on the list of possibilities is cutting back other City services and using those savings to fund at least some increased road maintenance.

Another possibility for better City road funding is an increase in the State tax for gasoline and diesel fuel.  The State fuel tax (currently 22 cents on every gallon) has not been increased in 25 years. That money goes into the Colorado Highway Users Tax Fund (HUTF), about half of which gets redistributed back to local agencies (such as cities and counties).  Arvada currently gets about $4 million a year from the fund to maintain its roads.

Each year, the Legislature seems to consider asking the voters to increase the fuel tax (or to add a new sales tax) for roads, and then the leadership decides not to do that after all near the end of the session.  The closest they came was when they enacted the FASTER fees on annual vehicle registrations in 2009 at the height of the last recession.  Since it was described as a fee rather than a tax, it did not have to go to the voters for approval.  Of the $4 million the City receives, about $800,000 comes from FASTER fees.  Depending upon what might be enacted this year by the General Assembly, the City of Arvada could receive a couple of million dollars a year in new road funding – or nothing at all.

One further option for new road construction is the reissuance of a series of existing City-issued bonds that will be paid off in 2017 and 2018.  That would require a vote of the people, but it could be done without raising taxes.  However, bond money, in general, may not be used for regular short-term roadway maintenance activities, such as patching potholes, crack sealing or thin overlays.  Nor, may bond money be used for operations.  Bonds are for big projects.

The Council will likely bring a bond-renewal proposal to the voters in 2018 along with a list of what projects would be funded with it.  What’s to be on that list is likely to be discussed sometime in 2017.  However, the Council already has a list of recommended large projects put together by a citizens’ capital-improvements committee which prioritized each project under consideration.  Many of the projects on that list have nothing to do with keeping up roads and dealing with congestion.  So that list might be reprioritized.

A bond renewal would make available (for all the projects) between $4.5 and $5.5 million every year.  Or, considering inflation and the need to pay interest to service the debt, between $50 and $65 million for projects overall.

Other options include polling to find out why the measure failed and looking at other options to increase road maintenance revenue.  Those might include a modest property tax increase, or a lower sales tax increase that doesn’t front-end construction projects.  Arvada has a pretty low property tax rate compared to some other Front Range cities.

Arvada has a comparatively low 4.31 mill levy

Arvada has a comparatively low 4.31 mill levy

The Council is likely to begin to discuss the road maintenance issue, and what their options are, at its next annual retreat on Saturday, January 28th – and probably throughout the year as they look for public input.

SCHOOL BOND AND MILL LEVY PROPOSALS
Those also failed at the polls in 2016, and the Jeffco school board is again considering consolidating and closing some local schools whose attendance has been falling.  Recent demographic studies by the City are showing that Arvada has one of the oldest populations in the metro area, and that ageing trend is increasing.  Still, there has been a resurgence of younger families wanting to live in the older parts of the city.  Combining that with a likely decision by the school board to replace its current superintendent, it is difficult to guess what will happen to our local schools in the coming year.

CURBSIDE PICKUP
This popular (and free) program for picking up large household items such as old mattresses, furniture and appliances for which trash-hauling companies can charge quite a bit extra to haul away, is normally scheduled for every two years in Arvada.  But that will not happen in 2017, and probably not in 2019 either.  No companies were willing to put in a bid for the work this year.  Moreover, the rate charged the City for the work two years ago was far beyond what was budgeted.

Instead, the City is planning to hold a two-week drop-off recycling event sometime in May.  The details of that have not been worked out yet, but they will be published on the City website at this address when available:

http://arvada.org/residents/services-and-sustainability/cleanup

WHERE TO FIND OUT MORE
The CLRC’s home web page at RalstonCommunity.org is still active, as is its Facebook page.  But the postings have been much less frequent since May of 2016 when our organization stopped operating as a central Arvada neighborhood association.

The CLRC’s Facebook page has a short article on using the new 55S bus line set up by RTD to provide hourly service direct to Denver Union Station to Olde Town.  This bus is not getting much use yet, and RTD may cancel the service if there are not more riders.  Here’s the link for that:

www.facebook.com/ralston.arvada

For other ways to get to DIA from Arvada, here is a link to an earlier article written in October:

https://ralstoncommunity.org/2016/10/20/getting-to-the-airport-during-the-gap/

If you want to see a 17-minute video on what is planned for Ralston Creek North (Arvada Square) in the coming couple of years, there is a video available on YouTube that shows what the buildings are hoped to look like when the work is complete.  It has some pretty neat animated graphics at the end of the video.  Here’s the link for that:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4hKshWuOt8&t=3s

Ralston Creek North video screen grab

Ralston Creek North video screen grab

The Arvada Urban Renewal Authority’s (AURA) nifty website provides a lot of information about developments in urban renewal areas.  It can be found at

http://arvadaurbanrenewal.org/

The site has been completely redone, and it is now being updated regularly.   For example, you can see what the latest concept plans for the nine-acre site look like at this link:

http://arvadaurbanrenewal.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/9-Acre-Site-Concept-Plan.pdf

The contact information for this article is:

Citizens for a Livable Ralston Community
c/o John Kiljan
jpkiljan@yahoo.com
303-423-9875

2016NeighborhoodWrap.docx
[minor syntax corrections on 8 Jan 2016]
Saturday, January 7, 2017

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New Transit Service from Olde Town to DIA via Union Station


by John Kiljan
[updated 19 December 2016]

Dear neighbors and friends of the CLRC,

For 13 years Ride Provide ran an inexpensive direct-to-the-airport shuttle service from Olde Town.  That service was called the A-Line shuttle, and it turned out to be a very popular and convenient way to reliably get to the Denver International Airport (DIA) from the heart of Arvada.

The A-Line shuttle was discontinued on October 31st in anticipation of the opening of the Gold Line commuter rail service to Denver Union Station (DUS).  However, because of gate-control software problems, the opening of the Gold Line (also known as the G Line) has been delayed for months until “sometime in 2017”, leaving a substantial “gap” in transit service from Olde Town to DIA.

That’s the bad news.  The good news is that RTD has started a new replacement bus service to fill that gap.  The new service started yesterday (December 18th).  It will run under the designations of 55L and 55S, and it will run at least hourly.  Its schedule is attached here.  The service won’t run all the way to DIA, but it will run non-stop to DUS where an easy connection can be made that will take passengers all the way to the airport.

This is a big deal.  And it’s not just good for people going to the airport.  Olde Town has never before had a transit connection to downtown Denver that was a direct all-day service.  Even the Gold Line (whenever it is finally up and running) will have several stops along its way to DUS.  For those used to taking the number 52 RTD bus as it threads its way through various metro neighborhoods, they will find getting to downtown Denver much easier and faster.  And unlike some other RTD parking lots that charge a fee for parking more than 24 hours, the Olde Town parking lot will be free.

The initial budget for the new bus service is $500,000.  And RTD has said it may cancel the service if there are not enough riders.  How many will actually use it is unknown.  Nor is it known how many will use it just to get to DUS to spend some time in downtown Denver.   But RTD expects the Gold Line itself (when it begins running) will attract an average of 2400 boardings a day.  So there is a good chance the new service will capture a good part of that ridership and remain in service until the Gold Line itself starts up.

glineprojections

When will the Gold Line actually start running?  No one knows for sure, but one indication will be when testing resumes again.  Tests must be run for 45 days.  After that there seems to be an approval action needed by the State’s Public Utilities Commission and by the Federal Railroad Administration.  So it seems like it will be at least a couple of months after we start hearing the frequent train horns sounding all along the line where it runs through Arvada’s at-grade crossings.

Readers should be able to get a printable view of the new schedule by clicking on this link.  [But note that there have been some gate changes at Denver Union Station as described below.]

http://us13.campaign-archive2.com/?u=49917934f712011cb54678e30&id=becb76ef84

For other options on getting to DIA from Arvada.  Have a look at this earlier CLRC article at this link.

https://ralstoncommunity.org/2016/10/20/getting-to-the-airport-during-the-gap/

So here is the Ride Provide announcement and RTD’s schedule . . .

New Non-Stop ‘Bus Bridge’ from Olde Town!
Here’s really big news: RTD has announced a new transitional service from the Olde Town Arvada park-n-ride operating daily beginning December 18, 2016. The new route is meant to bridge the gap between the A-Line shuttle, which stopped operating on November 1, and the start of the G-Line train in 2017. In addition to facilitating airport access, it’s a terrific way to get downtown for cultural and other events. Some features of this brand new service:

  • Hourly, non-stop service to and from Union Station, dropping you underneath the train platform, an easy and comfortable walk away.
  • The CU A-Line train takes you the rest of the way to DIA. Trains depart every fifteen minutes through most of the day, every day.
  • Very affordable rates: $2.60 to downtown or $9.00 all the way to DIA.
  • Seniors and kids go for half-price ($1.30 to downtown or $4.50 to DIA).
  • Free parking at the Olde Town Arvada park-n-ride — with a good number of spaces currently available.
  • For most trips, you’ll ride in a big, plush motorcoach with many amenities and driver assistance with luggage.
  • Preliminary: Ride Provide is working on a program for volunteers who can guide you and assist with your transfer downtown.
  • For most trips, you’ll ride in a big, plush motorcoach with many amenities and driver assistance with luggage.
  • Preliminary: Ride Provide is working on a program for volunteers who can guide you and assist with your transfer downtown.

Week Day Schedules and Pick-Up Locations
In a nutshell, the 55L departs the Olde Town p-n-r, Gate B, every fifteen minutes (approximately) from 6:09 a.m. until 8:01 a.m. After that, the bus (then called the 55S) departs the Olde Town p-n-r, Gate A [shown in red], hourly at :13 minutes after the hour, from 9:13 a.m. through 9:13 p.m. The trip is non-stop to Union Station and drops you one level below the train platform.

On the return from Union Station, the departure time is always :46 minutes after the hour, from 8:46 a.m. through 9:46 p.m.

55sschedulerevised2[Shelley Cook, the General Manager of Ride Provide, made these comments about gate changes in a Nextdoor.com posting:  Yes, the ECO pass applies. Note also that RTD has changed the gate at Union Station. Now ALL 55S pick-ups are at Gate 5 — which is better because it’s closer to the train! Also for those without passes — if you are planning to ride the 55L or 55S before the end of year, please let me know if you’d like a free ticket. I have a good number left over from our train dry runs, but they must be used by end of year. And I’d really like to see people try the 55. – Shelley from Ride Provide (and an Olde Town neighbor!)”  Ride Provide’s business number is 303-420-2589]

Weekend Schedules and Pick-Up Locations
The weekend schedule is an easy one: the 55S departs the Olde Town Park-n-Ride, Gate A, every hour at :13 minutes after the hour starting at 6:13 a.m. and continuing through 6:13 p.m. On the return, the 55S departs Union Station from Gate 5 [updated] every hour at :46 after the hour starting at 5:46 a.m. and continuing through 6:46 p.m.

Service is provided on all holidays, including Christmas and New Year’s, according to the Weekend Schedule.

NOTE: Two different vehicles will be used for this service. The 55S is an over-the-road coach with separate luggage storage and the driver will assist with your bags. The 55L is a regular RTD bus and it operates in the early morning hours on weekdays only. To board the 55L with your luggage, merely ask the driver to lower the lift to allow you to roll your luggage aboard. You can stow it on the floor in the front of the vehicle — but please be considerate of others and careful to preserve room for the aisle.

[Note also, that December 26th and January 2nd are not RTD holidays.  The regular weekday schedule will be followed those two days.  The locations of Gates A & B are a little hard to see in the original post.  Here’s a more detailed view of the Olde Town Park & Ride showing the two gates.  Gate A is the one marked in red.  North is on the right side of the drawing in this view and the Wadsworth Bypass runs along the bottom of the drawing and Vance Street is on the top.]

Olde Town Park & Ride (December 2016)

Olde Town Park & Ride (Fall 2016)

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Getting to the Airport During the “Gap”


by John Kiljan
[updated 21 October 2016]

Starting November 1st, travellers who have been using Ride Provide’s A-Line van shuttle service to the airport that now leaves from the Olde Town Park & Ride on an hourly basis, will have to find another way to get to the Denver International Airport (DIA).  That new way was supposed to have been via the new G-Line commuter rail service (also known as the Gold Line).  The Gold Line was originally scheduled to start up at the end of this month.  But now that’s not going to happen.  The Gold Line will not be up and running in time to take on the regular A-Line shuttle passengers when their service ends.

Commuter rail train at Denver Union Station

RTD commuter rail train at Denver Union Station

Gold Line or not, the A-Line shuttle service will be shutting down on October 31st.  Until the G-Line actually does start up, there will be an indefinite gap in available low-cost passenger service to DIA from central Arvada.  This will affect not only air travellers but also airport workers who have been using the service for years to get to their jobs.  This article is being posted to tell A-Line users why that’s happening and to outline what other travel options are available for trips to and from DIA during this gap in service.

WHAT’S GONE WRONG
It’s hard for anyone living in central Arvada not to notice something isn’t quite right with our upcoming commuter rail line.  The grand opening celebration that had been tentatively scheduled for October 29th and 30th, the request for event volunteers, all the nifty testing of the line with rail cars going back and forth, train horns sounding their passing, gates going up and down, monitors carefully noting how everything worked when a train passed – all of that has stopped.

Only the five or so trains a day that use the adjacent BN line (going mostly to the Coors brewery) are moving down the track.  And now what we have are a pair of 24/7 crossing monitors at each BN/G-Line at-grade railroad crossing.  The G-Line rail cars are nowhere to be seen, but the crossing flaggers/monitors are still needed for our safety when the few BN trains do pass by.  It’s hard not to be sympathetic with these flaggers.  They must be bored out of their heads sitting in lawn chairs all day and night with little to do except to watch, listen, read books, worry about people who might cause them harm in the night, and trying to keep warm.

And we also have the Denver Post articles about the problems RTD’s other A-Line commuter rail line is having – not the similarly named Ride Provide A-line shuttle, but the RTD train that runs from Denver Union Station (DUS) in downtown Denver to DIA itself.  That longer line has suffered frequent hardware and software failures in its first months of operation, causing aggravating delays to those trying to reach DIA on time.  And the two lines’ problems seem to be related.  They are being designed, built and operated by the same contractor.

RTD isn’t saying much except that the G-Line is expected to open up sometime between November 1st and December 21st.  That’s potentially a pretty big gap in service.  And it covers two of the busiest holiday travel seasons of the year, Thanksgiving and Christmas, for those needing to get to DIA.  News articles (and, of course, rumors) provide more information.  And I would not be surprised to see and even longer delays before the G-Line begins taking on paying passengers.  I shiver at even the thought of a ribbon cutting in the snow on a blustery January day.

And the blame is not even with RTD.  The contractor building both the G-Line and A-Line is more than a hired construction contractor, but is also a financial partner, one that is investing its own money to build, operate and maintain the two railway lines that will be taking many metro-area residents to DIA for decades to come.  The consortium of companies building both lines is Denver Transit Partners (DTP) and they have to meet some pretty strict performance goals under their public-private partnership agreement with RTD.

RTD has already fined DTP for the delays caused by the faults on the A-Line from DUS to DIA, but that is probably the least of their problems.  It’s the DTP who is paying for that small army of day-and-night crossing monitors while they get the bugs worked out of their crossing gate problems.  And after that, they still have to wait until the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) decide the Gold Line is safe enough to operate and take on passengers.

Although the problems with the DUS to DIA A-line have involved hardware problems such as handling lightning strikes, rumors coming from the crossing guards has it that the problems with the G-Line are primarily with software that either causes the gates to come down too soon, or to stay down too long, or to come down when not needed at all.  DTP is supposed to be using the same software and programming for the A-Line as it uses for the G-Line.  And these are all guaranteed to be real rumors.

But if that turns out to be the case, there is no telling when the line’s testing will begin again and the Gold Line will finally be opened up for service.  I’m not going to complain.  I just want a safe rail line, and considering the bills they are footing and the operating revenue they are losing, I expect DTP is even more highly motived to get this train moving down the tracks than most of us are.

Channel 7 recently published a short article with a short video about the Gold Line delay.  You can read that at this link:

http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/local-news/rtd-says-the-g-line-is-on-hold-until-a-line-issues-are-fixed

And there is another article by the Denver Post telling what RTD is saying the problems are at this link:

http://www.denverpost.com/2016/10/19/rtd-g-line-status/

Denver Post article on crossing gate problems

Denver Post article on crossing gate problems

So that brings us back to our immediate problem:  reliably getting to DIA on time and at a reasonable cost.

WHY CAN’T THE A-LINE SHUTTLE JUST KEEP RUNNING IN THE MEANTIME?
The short answer is that it can’t keep running because it needs drivers, maintained vans, funding for its fixed costs, and an operating budget.  Ride Provide is rapidly running out of all of those.  The drivers are the key need.  Those loyal employees need to be looking for new work as the peak holiday season starts.  Without a definite service cutoff date, losing that seasonal employment opportunity can make the difference on whether or not they have a job this winter.

Much of the maintenance on the vans has been cut back which could affect their reliability if they run past October.  And some drivers have already left for other jobs.  I’m just hoping the A-Line will make it to end of the month.  General Manager Shelley Cook put it best when she said, “we’re crawling to the finish line”.

Arvada’s Ride Provide’s A-Line shuttle service to DIA has been operated as a private non-profit organization whose operating expenses have been subsidized by RTD for many years.  Its vans have had easy access to RTD’s Arvada Park & Ride and it gets a discount on access fees to the airport because of that partnership.  All of that ends when the G-Line starts its operations.  If the shuttle service were to continue, it would be in competition with the G-Line and it could no longer share RTD’s facilities and it would have to charge much higher rates than the $13 a trip it does now versus the $9 per trip fee that RTD will be charging to use the Gold Line to get to DIA with a change at DUS.

[update:  21 October 2016]

I recently got this note from General Manager Shelley Cook on the A-Line’s shuttle service.

“A couple of corrections – we ARE maintaining the vans (and how!) – we’re just not replacing them as we had. The whole inventory is old. Also, we have funding and a nest egg, but the final two months’ funding for 2017 is earmarked as an incentive, promised to the employees in return for staying until the very end. It’s meant to provide a cushion for them, give them a little more time to find other employment.”

“PS – the two months of subsidy equals one month of pay for the employees. That’s the incentive amount.”

Also, there is a new article posted by Channel 4 that has this quote:

“Cook said about continuing service beyond Oct. 31. ‘My decision and our board’s decision is that we wouldn’t. You need full staffing; you need reliable vehicles. This van has almost 400,000 miles on it. It’s two years old. Our employees are moving on. Some of them have jobs that start, or are predicated on a Nov. 1 ramp up.’”

You can view the full Channel 4 article, and its video, at this link.  I highly recommend taking the time to do that.

http://denver.cbslocal.com/2016/10/20/money-dries-up-for-popular-nonprofit-shuttle-to-airport/

[end of update]

SO WHAT ARE THE OTHER GETTING-TO-DIA OPTIONS?
Some are obvious.  Let’s start with the highest cost.  Take a taxi.  It’s quick, simple and usually trouble free.  It’s been awhile since I’ve done that.  I usually only take a taxi to or from DIA when I have a very early, or very late, flight during the hours when the A-Line doesn’t run.  You can call the taxi companies to ask for an estimate, but be sure to add in a driver gratuity when you budget for the trip.  The last taxi I took to DIA from Arvada cost about $100 with a tip.  Still, it’s a door-to-door service and you are only likely to be needing it for a couple of months.

But it’s also a new digital age.  If you have a smart phone and a credit card, you can download an app onto it that lets you hire a private (but sort of pre-vetted) driver to take you to the airport from your doorstep.  I don’t have a smart phone and I’ve never tried it.  (My wife has a smart phone, but I can’t figure out how to use it, and she won’t teach me.)

But those who have used services like Uber have told me they like it and will never take a regular taxi again if they can help it.  The costs for Uber and its competitor, Lyft, are said to be about 2/3rds the cost of a regular PUC-regulated taxi ride.  But, they are also said to use a demand-based pricing scheme where you are charged a lot more during peak travel-demand periods, and you could end up paying just as much (or more) than you would for a taxi ride to the airport.

Uber smart-phone based service

Uber smart-phone based service

And, of course, you can simply fight cross-town traffic and drive to the airport yourself and then park in one of the outlying lots.  Those lots have regular shuttles running night and day to take you to the real airport if you are willing to wait 15 minutes in the winter cold,with the wind blowing over that prairie for one to show up.

The DIA close-in lots are another option.  They are a bit pricy for more than just a day or two’s stay, and they often seem to be so full that you can spend quite a bit of time looking for a place to park.  But at least you can walk directly into the terminal from many of those parking spaces – unless the only available spaces are the ones farther out.  In which case, you are likely to be waiting for a shuttle anyway.

And if you are going to have to get in your car and drive in any event, there are some other much cheaper alternatives that pop up.   The first is an inexpensive service called the Flatiron Flyer at $9.  It’s run by RTD as a part of its Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system.  It leaves from 88th and Sheridan, and I don’t know what the security is like for cars left at that station.  It runs every 15 minutes most of the day and night.  Unfortunately, the FF1 Flatiron Flyer won’t take you to DIA, but it will instead take you to Denver Union Station where you can take the A-Line commuter rail to DIA itself.  Here’s the link to finding out about the service:

http://us13.campaign-archive2.com/?u=49917934f712011cb54678e30&id=450aab87e3

And if you are going to be changing at DUS anyway, the other RTD option is the B-Line train station at 71st and Hooker.  That’s near Federal Boulevard and about the same driving distance as to the Flatiron Flyer from central Arvada.  I don’t know what parking is like there, and that train takes you to DUS as well.

If you are willing to drive twice as far, or you are living on the west side of Arvada, the RTD bus service leaving from the Flatirons Crossing park-and-ride in Superior is worth considering.  Its chief advantages are that it is non-stop directly to DIA, it’s also only $9 ($4.50 for seniors), it’s fast, it doesn’t rely on a train at all, it operates every hour (or more often) and it runs well into the night.  That’s a big plus if your plane gets in late after a horrible day of missed flight connections – something that seems to happen to me about half the time when I travel.

It’s called the Skyride AB line and you get to it by driving north on Indiana and then onto McCaslin until you hit US 36.  Here’s the link to its schedule:

http://www3.rtd-denver.com/schedules/getSchedule.action?routeType=9&routeId=AB

Flatiron Flyer with $9 direct service to DIA

Flatiron Flyer

There may be other options that I’m missing here.  I left out the W-Line light rail service to Golden because I think it drops you off a couple of blocks from DUS, which is too far if you have a lot of luggage or feel unsafe in that part of town.

A-Line shuttle service direct to DIA will be ending Monday October 31st

A-Line shuttle service direct to DIA will be ending Monday October 31st

If this all seems like too much to deal with, think of the good things that have happened and are happening.  We’ve enjoyed a decade and a half of a great, reliable and low-cost shuttle service to DIA that we nearly didn’t get at all when RTD shut down its “AA” airport bus to Arvada.  When we do finally get the G-Line running, it is likely to be more reliable than the RTD A-Line has been so far.  And problems with the A-Line commuter rail line on the second leg of our airport journey are likely to be much less.

And, best of all, we will finally be getting the rail service that most of voted for a decade ago and have been paying for ever since!

WHERE TO FIND OUT MORE
Ride Provide has been putting out regular information on what to do about their service ending.  Here are the links to a few of those postings:

9/28/16
Flatiron Flyer

http://us13.campaign-archive2.com/?u=49917934f712011cb54678e30&id=450aab87e3

8/28/16
Train Video

http://us13.campaign-archive2.com/?u=49917934f712011cb54678e30&id=287173fbda

7/16/16
First Friday Dry Runs

http://us13.campaign-archive2.com/?u=49917934f712011cb54678e30&id=1a0be98b97

6/14/16
Second Update

http://us13.campaign-archive1.com/?u=49917934f712011cb54678e30&id=912969bafa

3/30/16
First Update

http://us13.campaign-archive2.com/?u=49917934f712011cb54678e30&id=fd3e75e890

RTD has also given Ride Provide some free passes for using the new rail lines so groups could learn how to handle the change of trains at DUS.  Some of those may still be available, and if you have a group, you might try calling them at 303-420-2589 to see if there are any still left.

And finally, for an article about the ethics involved in using non-PUC-regulated taxi services and what that might mean for taxi services in the metro area, this article is worth having a look at:

http://www.denverpost.com/2016/10/18/ride-sharing-services-didnt-run-taxis-off-road-but-that-could-change/

John Kiljan
jpkiljan@yahoo.com
303-423-9875

October 20, 2016

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

SD 19 race with a special note to Libertarians


Want to have you single vote count more this election season? If you do then you need to vote in the Senate District 19 election.

Ballots will be in your mail box this week!!!

One would think this election is between Rachael Zenzinger and Laure Woods. Both candidates have real issues. Zenzinger has run afoul of campaign ethics laws and Woods right leaning views are distasteful to some.

However, this election and you vote, are far more important that the individuals running. This election is about control of the State Senate. It looks as though the State Senate will be decided by one seat. That seat is our very own Senate District 19.

You might say “Why should I care who controls the Senate.” The answer is simple. If Democrats control the Senate then they control all three branches of the state government. If Republicans control the senate then there are checks and balances.

You might remember the disaster that pretended to be a state government the last time one party help all three branches of the state government. That was just 2013. That mess lead to enough people being upset that Colorado saw its first successful recall of sate level elected officials.

I am not writing this to tell you how to vote. I do want to remind you though that your vote counts and you need to consider the ramifications of that vote. Think carefully and decide if you want a state government that is controlled by one party, or if you believe that the state government should be a balanced body where all points of view are represented.

A Special Note to Libertarians: Your vote count more than any other in this election. The past three elections have been decided by less than 1000 votes. In those elections about 6,000 Libertarians have voted in each election. In truth your vote will decide this election. Voting for a third party candidate often feels good, however, in this case that self indulgence may be the difference between a party monopoly at the state level and come semblance of balance. I urge you to consider the ramifications of that monopoly the cast your vote for the mainstream party that best represents your ideals.

 

T.O.

 

 

 

 

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Better Roads Tax Question


by John Kiljan

Monday, August 15th, is the deadline for responding to the City of Arvada’s “Better Roads” online survey.  This is a lot more important than a typical City survey.  It’s a choice between avoiding a tax increase and having better roads.  Here’s the link to the City survey if you want to take it now, but I suggest you read on a bit first and learn a little more about what’s being proposed and why.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/5TS3CLX

Although most Arvadans will not take it, the survey may be the best indication the Arvada City Council is going to get on whether or not they should go to the voters in November to see if they want to increase the City’s current 3.00% general sales tax by another half percent (to 3.50%).  The increase would be used for a combination of road improvements and increased street maintenance for at least the next ten years.  A half-percent tax increase would mean paying an additional 50 cents on every $100 purchase made in the City.  That would include purchases made at grocery stores as well.

And it would make Arvada’s combined sales tax rate the highest in Jefferson County.  Arvada also levies a 0.46% police tax, and when adding in all the other sales taxes levied by the County, special districts and the State, the overall sales tax rate in Arvada would go from 7.96% to 8.46%.

WHY A NEW TAX?
Most citizens are adverse to sales tax increases.  If I were a Council member, I would be reluctant to even offer a tax increase proposal unless I were fairly certain that’s what my constituents wanted.  But recent citizen surveys show that residents have also become increasingly dissatisfied with the condition of the roads and growing traffic in Arvada.

CITIZENS’ SURVEY
And that dissatisfaction is in spite of the fact that impartial machine-based measurements of pavement distress and roughness show no overall pavement deterioration since 2012. So what has changed?   What has really changed is people’s perception of how bad the streets are. There was a significant drop in satisfaction when the latest citizens’ survey was released in January of this year.2015 Citizens' Survey showing ta dropping level of satisfaction with street repair. Two years earlier, the level was next to the snow removal rating.

2015 Citizens’ Survey showing a dropping level of satisfaction with street repair. Two years earlier, the level was next to the snow removal rating.

I suspect there are several reasons for that dissatisfaction, and at the top of the list is congestion. People tend to lump congestion and road maintenance together when they respond to surveys. They also tend to lump together City streets and State highways.

Where I hear the most complaints about congestion and traffic are on State highways, on 72nd Avenue and on the Kipling Parkway. Those State highways are Sheridan, Wadsworth, SH 72 (Ward/64th/Indiana) and SH 93. CDOT has its own budget problems that the State Legislature has not been able to address.  Despite a large increase in construction costs, there have been no State or federal gas tax increases in the last 20 years, and I’m not surprised to see it showing up in their roads. This new City sales tax money, if it happens, will not be going to State highways, either for new construction or for maintenance and repair.

New construction has delayed maintenance on the Kipling Parkway for some time, but it is now getting a two-month patching and overlay job since that construction has finished up. It should look, and ride, pretty nice when the work is done. The same thing happened to feeder streets such as Brooks Drive and Garrison Street near the park after its reconstruction had finished.

BetterRoads

Ralston Road in central Arvada will always be a problem until it is widened. The outside lane is so narrow (8 feet) that the larger and heavier vehicles are forced to drive in the adjacent two-foot gutter pan, driving rainwater and snowmelt into the joint between the concrete and asphalt. It will always have a spring crop of potholes until that problem is addressed.  Over the years, I’ve lost a couple of hubcaps on that road myself.  Moreover, if reconstruction is imminent, crews will probably put off any major pavement repairs, since much of it will have to come out when the road is rebuilt.

SO HOW MUCH WILL RESIDENTS REALLY HAVE TO PAY?
What will that 0.50% increase cost a typical Arvada family each year?  That would depend upon how much they shop in Arvada, of course.  The City hasn’t made an official estimate yet.  But to get a rough idea, I used the data that urban renewal used when figuring the benefits of the new housing project proposed for Ralston Creek North, which is scheduled to begin construction next year.  Those numbers worked out to about $65 a year for a typical family.  If you want to see the math, here’s a link to follow:

https://ralstoncommunity.org/2016/03/15/alternative-funding-for-transportation/

A GRIM FUTURE IS PREDICTED FOR CITY ROADS
Also pushing the tax measure forward is a warning from the City’s consultants that pavement condition ratings are soon expected to head steeply downward on our road condition surveys if more money is not put into preventative maintenance now.  That’s where most of the $9 million-a-year figure that City Staff is asking for seems to be coming from.

And the consultant says that is just the money needed to keep the roads in the same overall condition they are in now.   More funding would be needed to see a tangible improvement in overall pavement conditions over time.   As far as I know, there has been no independent review of the consultant’s findings or the tie to the additional $9 million-a-year amount being asked for.

So, is this much money really what is needed?  Is more needed?  I don’t know the answers to those questions.  Those questions are sort of like asking if a family really does need to pay for a lawn service for weekly lawn care, or should they wait until the yard is so full of weeds that it needs to be re-sodded entirely.

How much do similarly sized towns spend on road maintenance on a lane-mile basis and on new construction?   I don’t know the answer to that question either, and there are so many variables when comparing Arvada to other cities, I’m not sure that information would even be useful even if it were available.

CAN WE EVEN SPEND THAT MUCH MONEY?
Nine million dollars would kick up the City’s annual road improvement budget quite a bit – to $16 million a year, more than double the $6 million or so we spend now.  That’s a big increase.  Can we even spend that surge in money for street maintenance fast enough?  The short answer is, no we can’t.  Well, not at first, anyway.  Most of the needed work would have to be contracted out to private companies, and the City has been saying that they can’t staff up fast enough to handle the contracting and inspection demands in the first few years.  And the available asphalt laying companies in the metro area may also need to gear up themselves with new equipment purchases – especially if the Colorado Legislature finally passes its own better roads bill.

But the City can spend all of what they take in by doing a series of the most-needed capital-improvement projects right away, and those would include new construction on Ralston Road and 72nd Avenue.  After those, the City would be ready to pour most of the $9 million annual amount into the streets that are in the poorest condition.   That approach seems to make sense, and it seems a lot better than letting the first monies sit in a bank waiting to be used.

onehalfcentgraph

A FAIR TAX?
Is this an equitable tax?  The short answer to that is, no, it’s not.  Sales taxes are some of the most regressive taxes there are.  They tend to hit the poorest residents the hardest since those are the ones who have to spend the largest portion of their income on basic necessities, such as clothes and groceries.  More to the point, those who use the roads the most are the ones who should be paying the most.  A gas tax is very good at doing that, but, so far, no Colorado city has levied its own gas tax.

But there is a catch that makes a sales tax increase a lot fairer for Arvada’s least-well-off than it would first seem.  The reason for that is that many of the people paying the tax will not be Arvada residents, but will instead be those from the County and nearby municipalities who shop in Arvada.  Those people also use our roads to shop and to commute.

But if we were to do something else such as increase Arvada’s property tax rate (we are among the lowest in the metro area), only Arvada residents would be paying that tax.  Those outside the City would get a free ride (figuratively speaking).  And Arvada families would have to pay much more to get the same funding benefit.  You can see my own calculations of how much more we would have to pay for that (and other funding alternatives) in the “alternative funding for transportation” link referenced above.

So what about a combination of both property taxes and sales taxes instead of just one or the other?  If I’ve got this right, the State Constitution requires ballot questions to be for a single issue only.  If a combination of both property and sales taxes were proposed, one might pass and the other might not.   That could leave us short of what is really needed.

SHOULD OTHER CITY SERVICES BE CUT INSTEAD?
It’s the next logical question.  The City Council could cut other ongoing City functions to come up with another $9 million a year to provide the money City Staff is asking for.

That would amount to about 14% of the City’s annual budget.  That’s a lot.  The City already runs a tight budget.  That approach would have a pretty significant impact on City services and maintenance.  I once did a quick calculation and figured we could do it if we fired the entire police force.

But I was wrong, we’d only have to fire less than half the department according to Arvada City Manager, Mark Deven.  And it probably wouldn’t even be legal to do that since the taxpayers have voted twice now that some of our sales taxes be dedicated for police department use only.

And as for diverting urban renewal tax breaks to roads, I am always mystified why people think that money could even be available.  Not only would it be illegal under State law, but those projects generate their own revenue.  Without their tax concessions, there would be no urban renewal projects built and no money at all to use for any other purpose.   Urban renewal tax breaks are “but for” tax breaks.  But for those limited tax concessions, there would be no urban renewal and no new revenue for anything.

61st Avenue where trash haulers turn onto Flower Street. It takes real money to fill cracks and potholes.

61st Avenue where trash haulers turn onto Flower Street. It takes real money to fill cracks and potholes.

A somewhat more practical suggestion would be to divert the entire City Charter-mandated capital improvement budget over the next ten years to roads.  But even though that would be legal, it is still not enough, and it would kill a lot of things a recent citizens’ committee said were more important.  That committee instead recommended finding a new revenue source (i.e., taxes or fees) to improve roads.  City Manager Mark Deven addressed this issue much better than I could for three minutes at the last City Council workshop.

If anyone is interested, they can hear what he said if they pull up the City’s workshop video on this subject and go to the 1-hour 54-minute mark at this link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=sYHPdHRWmk4

WILL MY OWN ROAD GET FIXED?
Maybe not.  If your street is already in pretty good shape, it’s not likely to get any improvements with a tax increase over the next ten years other than regular crack sealing or maybe a very thin (micropave) overlay.  If, more likely, you are more concerned about the roads you commute on or use for shopping while travelling at higher speeds than you do on your own residential street, then the answer depends upon who owns the road.  The City does not own, operate, or maintain all of Arvada’s arterial roads.

The State of Colorado does that for its State Highways.  SH 72, for example, runs up Ward Road from I-70, west along 64th Avenue, then turns onto Indiana, and then again along Coal Creek Canyon Road.  Similarly, Wadsworth Boulevard, Sheridan Boulevard and SH 93 are all owned and maintained by the State’s transportation department, CDOT.  If you drive on those roads, keep in mind this is not likely to be where Arvada’s tax increase will be going.

State Highway 72 at 64th Avenue and Ward Road

State Highway 72 at 64th Avenue and Ward Road

The City did up a great condition survey map showing the measured road conditions on all the City-owned streets.  As you might have guessed, most of the worst roads are in the older residential neighborhoods.

I’ve asked the City to add the condition survey map to Arvada.org’s excellent GIS map gallery on Arvada.org at

http://arvada.org/explore/maps/map-gallery

but so far they have not been able to do that.

However, there are very low-resolution maps that are available online.  The best I’ve seen is a “Red to Green” map in the latest Arvada Report on page three.  And, I’ll copy it here at the best resolution I can get.  But you might not be able to find your own street on it.  Why?  Because it can be hard to get oriented.  In addition to the somewhat fuzzy image, the State Highways have been blanked out entirely since they are not City streets.  You might have to guess where they are to help find your own street.  Arvada looks very different on a map without Wadsworth Boulevard on it.  Here is the image:

Low-res version of Arvada's 2015 road condition survey map from the Arvada Report. State highways are not shown.

Low-res version of Arvada’s 2015 road condition survey map from the Arvada Report. State highways are not shown.

IS NOVEMBER A GOOD TIME TO EVEN BE ASKING THE VOTERS ABOUT THIS ISSUE?
There is going to be an awful lot on this November’s ballot.  And much of what will be on that ballot will be controversial.  In addition to the Presidential race where both candidates have a high disapproval rating, there will be federal Senate and House races, tight races for Arvada’s State House and Senate representatives, a very large Jeffco schools tax issue, a SCFD cultural and arts district tax renewal, and many more issues for Arvada voters to consider.

But voter turnout tends to be higher during November Presidential election years and a large turnout tends to favor tax issues.  The alternative for a May ballot question usually brings out older and more consistent voters who tend to vote against tax increases.  And then there is the possibility of an off-year ballot question in November of 2017.

And there is a lot of information about the need for improved road maintenance and congestion mitigation in Arvada that voters will have to absorb between now and the end of October while they are considering all those other ballot issues.  I don’t see that there is much time left to do a good job of that in this current election cycle, and people tend not to vote for issues they are uncertain about.

HOW WILL THIS WRITER VOTE?
I’m pretty likely to be voting for a tax increase for roads if one goes up on the ballot.

I am a little worried that we are relying a little too much on the findings of a single consultant to ask voters for $93 million of additional funding over the next decade.  I may not be completely happy about this choice of funding, but I can afford a $65 a year increase in retail purchases in Arvada.  It’s relatively cheap, and it’s an easy way to get the needed revenue.

And, considering the benefit that money will bring to me and to my neighborhood, I think it will probably be a pretty easy decision to make.  Investing reasonable amounts in roads and transportation infrastructure is generally a good public investment at just about any time.

For a cost comparison, this proposal should cost me only a little more than the 0.40% RTD FasTracks tax when I voted for that years ago.  By coincidence, $65 is the same amount that RTD said in public meetings that tax would cost a typical metro-area family each year.  That Gold Line train hasn’t even arrived in Arvada yet, but already I see the benefits it has brought to the community – particularly in helping to revitalize Olde Town and to redevelop the Arvada Ridge area.  Hopefully, these road improvements will do the same for all of Arvada.

DISCLOSURE
This writer is a civil engineer.  I once attended Michigan State University for a month of day-and-night intensive training in pavement design, and how to put together pavement management systems, how to evaluate pavements conditions, and how to best allocate resources for maintaining state highways.  The State of Colorado footed the bill for that when I was an employee of CDOT.  I have also spent many, many hours doing pavement condition surveys in the field on highways all over Colorado as a part of my work for that agency as a research engineer.  I’m retired now, but that background has done much to reinforce my own belief that public expenditures in keeping up city streets with regular preventative maintenance are a good investment.

WHERE TO FIND OUT MORE
This is a YouTube video of the Arvada City Council’s workshop on this subject.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=sYHPdHRWmk4

Unless you also want to learn about long-range planning for Arvada’s broadband internet service, the road maintenance part starts at about the 1-hour 46-minute part on the video.

The City also has a number of information files that go with the online survey.  You can find those at this link on Arvada.org:

http://arvada.org/explore/transportation/better-roads-arvada-survey

There are two earlier CLRC articles on this subject.  Here are the links to each:

https://ralstoncommunity.org/2016/03/12/city-staff-recommends-17-sales-tax-increase/

and

https://ralstoncommunity.org/2016/03/15/alternative-funding-for-transportation/

If you are interested in what the most recent citizens’ survey has to say about the need for better road maintenance, here is a link to yet another CLRC article on that subject:

https://ralstoncommunity.org/2016/01/13/citizen-survey-report-of-2015/

If you are still undecided on whether or not to take the survey, here are the six questions you’ll be asked to answer, displayed here in a compressed format:

***

  1. Arvada’s transportation infrastructure is the City’s largest and most valuable asset and must be a priority in terms of maintenance and improvements.

Agree Disagree  Other (please specify)

  1. Do you believe the condition of Arvada’s streets and roads has deteriorated over the past five years?

Yes No About the same Don’t know  Other (please specify)

  1. Thinking about street and road maintenance, what are the top issues you think the City of Arvada should focus on when addressing transportation infrastructure needs?

Filling potholes and repairing cracks in streets.

Preventative maintenance that will extend street life and save money long term.

Widening major intersections.

Continue to improve synchronization of lights along busy streets.

Increasing the number of turn lanes to ease congestion.

Other (please specify)

  1. The Citizens Capital Improvement Plan Committee, a diverse group of Arvada residents appointed to assess the City’s infrastructure needs, ranked street improvements and maintenance as a top priority and recommended that Council take immediate action to address the shortfall in funding available for needed street improvements and maintenance. In response, City staff has recommended that Arvada City Council consider asking voters for a 1/2 cent sales tax increase to be used specifically for Arvada streets and roads. If the vote were held today would you support this increase?

Yes, I would support a1/2 sales tax increase specifically for Arvada streets and roads.

No, I would not support a sales tax increase.

I don’t know

Other (please specify)

  1. Would you be more or less willing to support a 1/2 cent tax increase to be specifically spent on roads if you knew all monies collected from this tax will be conducted in an open and transparent process including all projects  tracked on the City’s website as well as an annual review published on the City’s website?

More likely  Less likely  Does not make a difference  Other (please specify)

  1. Would you be more or less likely to support a 1/2 cent sales tax to be spent specifically on Arvada streets and roads if the tax had a sunset provision–meaning it would end after a certain amount of time?

More likely  Less likely  Does not make a difference  Other (please specify)

***

Okay, now it’s your turn.  Follow the link at the top of this article and take the City’s Better Roads survey and tell the Council what you think.  They are waiting to hear from you.

–John Kiljan
jpkiljan@yahoo.com
August 7, 2016

 

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