The 1949 Hudson, mired in East Coast rust up to her withers, coughed and sputtered into muggy Denver on May 31, with a carburetor tuned to work at sea level.
Her handlers, transportation author Dan McNichol and ENR editor Aileen Cho, who had already crossed half the country in the “classic” car, knew the lean, clean Denver air might not be good for the old girl. Their choice of Mrs. Martin as a symbol of America’s sagging infrastructure for ENR’s “Low & Slow” tour seemed Mile High apropos.
But on Monday she got an adjustment from one of the crackerjack mechanics at the Denver Public Works Dept. and purred across town for her photo op behind Union Station—the core of the city’s multimodal transportation renaissance.
The historic station itself—where buses, light rail, commuter rail and Amtrak will all converge—is also a symbol for what U.S. infrastructure could be, with solid planning, good design and construction, and the innovative public-public-private partnerships that made the station’s $500-million renovation happen. Key players included Denver Union Station Project Authority, with the city and county of Denver, the Regional Transportation District, the Colorado Dept. of Transportation, and a private consortium calling itself Union Station Neighborhood Co.
It takes a village to create this kind of transit village.
The Low & Slow team also met with leaders of Denver’s Dept. of Public Works, who wrangle a $240-million budget to manage 12 internal departments, 5,000-plus lane-miles of roads and streets, solid waste facilities, new capital projects and more than 500 events in the city every year.
DPW Executive Director Jose Cornejo said the department is “amping up its efforts to partner with other agencies” on multiple fronts as it seeks to “reactivate downtown Denver” with new street alignments and “increase mobility options” around the city. “But we absolutely need these partnerships to do big projects,” he said.
The theme of partnerships permeated the rest of the Denver Low & Slow visit, which included a tour of RTD’s Eagle commuter rail to Denver International Airport, one segment of the agency’s first public-private partnership within the FasTracks transit program.
The airport line, which will connect passengers from DIA to downtown at Union Station in 37 minutes (now about a 45-minute, $55 cab ride) will open next spring. Trains will arrive at DIA at a glass-canopied station beneath the airport’s new 519-room Westin hotel, still under construction at the south end of the terminal. The hotel will open by Thanksgiving.
RTD also showcased its I-225 Aurora light rail line, now about 60% complete, which will connect commuters on the east side of the metro area to airport commuter rail when the Aurora line opens in 2018.
The Aurora project is another example of creative partnering by a public agency. The project emerged through an unsolicited P3 proposal to RTD by Kiewit Infrastructure, in another contracting first for the agency.
Finally, on Tuesday, Low & Slow wound its way north to tour the two phases of the U.S. 36 expansion project along the Boulder Turnpike. The $497-million project (total for both phases) will create the state’s first truly multimodal corridor, including upgraded, untolled highway lanes; a tolled HOV lane in each direction; bus rapid transit service and a paved, off-highway bike lane that runs parallel to U.S. 36 from Boulder to the north metro area. It is CDOT’s first use of public-private partnerships in the state.
On Tuesday afternoon, Mrs. Martin headed for even-higher ground as she and the Low & Slowers climbed west into the Rockies and on to Glenwood Springs and Salt Lake City.
The tour will finish in California in mid-June.