The Denver Regional Council of Governments is responsible for handing out more than $132 million worth of federal transportation funds for the 2012-2017 period. Here's a look at the Boulder and Boulder County projects that have received initial approval for funds, but are now at risk in a modified proposal by Denver officials.
$4 million for a multi-use pathway along the north side of Pearl Street between 30th Street and Foothills Parkway
$915,000 for a multi-use pathway underpass along the Diagonal Highway at Airport Road near Longmont
$900,000 for the Wonderland Creek underpass at 28th Street
$555,000 for enhanced bus service on the Bolt route
$426,000 for enhancements to the University of Colorado's Stampede bus service
$414,000 for enhanced bus service to between Boulder, Longmont and Lyons
Source: Denver Regional Council of Governments
Denver Mayor Guillermo "Bill" Vidal is asking the Denver Regional Council of Governments to slash federal funding for six Boulder and Boulder County transit projects in order to pay for improvements to a Denver road -- leading some officials to say they've been blindsided by a close ally.
The fight is over DRCOG's Transportation Improvements Program, which distributes federal transportation funds in five-year blocks.
While the group's Metro Visions Issues Committee voted in January to approve a list of projects that will receive funding through 2017, Denver only received $15 million of its request for $25 million to make improvements to Peoria Street at Smith Road near the Aurora city limit.
Now, Denver's mayor is asking DRCOG to reconsider, and is suggesting that Boulder and Boulder County should give up more than $7 million worth of transit improvements to help make up the $10 million that's needed to fully fund the Peoria work.
Under Denver's proposal, the projects that would be completely cut from the approved funding list include:
$4 million for a multi-use pathway along the north side of Pearl Street between 30th Street and Foothills Parkway;
$915,000 for a multi-use pathway underpass along the Diagonal Highway at Airport Road near Longmont;
$900,000 for the Wonderland Creek underpass at 28th Street;
$414,000 for enhanced bus service to between Boulder, Longmont and Lyons;
$555,000 for enhanced bus service on the Bolt route;
$426,000 for enhancements to the University of Colorado's Stampede bus service.
An additional $2.79 million would come from cuts to the Regional Air Quality Council, which was created by former Gov. Bill Ritter to manage air quality planning for the metro area.
Vidal justified the request in a recent letter to DRCOG officials.
"Reconsideration is warranted in order to address severe existing issues and potentially catastrophic future issues for public health and safety for all regional users," Vidal wrote.
Those issues, he added, include inadequate turn lanes on Peoria to Interstate 70, vehicles backed up onto railroad tracks, increased pedestrian traffic and the need to keep traffic flowing on Peoria due to its use as an emergency response route to local hospitals and Denver International Airport.
The proposed work would include a grade separation of Peoria Street from Smith Road, the Union Pacific railroad tracks and the yet-to-be-built FasTracks East Corridor commuter rail line. The overall cost of the project is expected to be about $50 million.
"The likelihood for one or many accidents resulting in serious injury and/or death is high, but preventable," Vidal wrote.
George Delaney, manager of public works for Denver, made the recommendation to Vidal.
Delaney said the grading work is among the city's highest transportation priorities, and that it's considered to be a "health, life and safety issue," while Boulder's projects seemed to focus more on bike paths and convenience.
"It's a matter of priorities," he said. "We're saying, 'Let us have the dollars now.'"
Delaney said Denver supports Boulder, especially in its efforts to secure funding for the U.S. 36 corridor, and that the city would help Boulder secure funding for any programs that are cut this year during the next round of federal awards.
"We'll be there to support them 100 percent," Delaney said. "Right now, we need the money."
Boulder-area officials, meanwhile, are left scratching their heads over the idea.
"I've never before seen a proposal that simply targets funding from one or two communities, so it's really unprecedented -- and I think it would set a terrible precedent for decision making," Boulder County Commissioner Will Toor said.
Toor, who is in Washington D.C. with a host of city and county officials to lobby for local transportation issues, said the Boulder and Boulder County projects ranked high by DRCOG for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and promoting alternative transportation.
"Historically we've been allies in most issues," he said of Denver and Boulder County. "It's very hard to see that proposal in any way meeting up with the goals of regional equity. I certainly hope the DRCOG board doesn't go there."
Boulder City Councilwoman Lisa Morzel said she was upset that the council hadn't been notified about Denver's request -- which was copied to officials in Aurora and Littleton, but not sent to Boulder.
"I can't accept being blindsided," she said. "This is supposed to be a council of governments that work together."
She said it doesn't make sense to target Boulder programs for cuts, because the city has the largest population of people making the shift from automobiles to alternative forms of transportation in the state. Projects like the Wonderland Creek underpass, she said, are important links for the community.
Tracy Winfree, Boulder's director of public works for transportation, said she doesn't think Denver's proposal fits the standards by which DRCOG originally allocated the funds.
"As far as I saw, the Denver proposal doesn't align with those policies and guidelines," she said, which include reducing vehicle-miles traveled and increasing multi-modal transportation.
She said federal money is already difficult to qualify for, and Denver's move could undermine the city's extensive efforts.
Sue Prant, development director for Community Cycles in Boulder, wrote a letter Wednesday to the DRCOG board asking it to reject Denver's proposal.
"This time it may be bike and bus projects in Boulder that my folks care about, but if you allow this to happen, a precedent will be set that the (funding) process can be side-stepped," she wrote. "The next time it may be the project that is important to your community in your neighborhood, which has survived a fair process that is suddenly on the cutting board."
While the DRCOG funding is set for a final decision on March 16, Denver introduced the proposal to the group's Board of Directors on Wednesday night.
Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier led a group of 10 people who spoke in favor of the funding shakeup. He said the stretch of Peoria Street slated for improvement sees a total of 35,000 cars per day with that number expected to double over the next 10 to 15 years.
“The city of Aurora strongly urges DRCOG for funding in the TIP at the $25 million level,” Frazier said. “It addresses urgently needed and key safety features for future growth.”
David Cook, transportation options manager at the University of Colorado at Boulder, read a letter to the DRCOG board written by Frank Bruno, CU Boulder's vice chancellor of administration.
“The transit service enhancements to the Stampede (bus route) supply the most direct boost to campus sustainability,” Cook read. “... A recent request by Denver and Aurora could result in the elimination of six projects not only important to CU, but also to our community members.”
DRCOG Board Member Jack Hilbert, who represents Douglas County, advocated a pragmatic approach to resolving issues between Denver and Boulder. He volunteered to throw $500,000 dedicated in the TIP budget to a Douglas County project back into consideration for other projects.
“This is not a problem with an order of magnitude we cannot (overcome),” Hilbert said. “It is very easy to move some money around. We want these regional projects to be funded.”
Camera Staff Writer Joe Rubino contributed to this report. Contact Camera Staff Writer Heath Urie at 303-473-1328, or firstname.lastname@example.org.