New Denver focus on transportation heading to voters in November

Denver residents will decide Nov. 5 whether to create a city transportation department.

It’s a bureaucratic change, but it signals a bigger shift: The city may take on more responsibility for bus and train service amid a new urban era.

The Denver City Council on Monday decided to put the measure on voters’ ballots.

If approved by voters, it would turn the existing Department of Public Works into the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure.

“What we’ve been working on is essentially a culture shift, and it’s a pivot toward a new mentality and philosophy,” said public works director Eulois Cleckley.

Currently, the public works department handles transportation projects for the city, including the upcoming bus-rapid transit project for East Colfax Avenue, as well as sewer and trash service.

The new department will keep all those responsibilities, but the reorganization would show a “commitment to expanding mobility options and improving existing transportation infrastructure” and focus more on transportation. Previously, the city considered creating a standalone transportation department, but officials decided that would be inefficient.

The practical parts of the reorganization are already finished, a city spokesperson said. That includes, for example, the creation of a new planning division.

The vote would not bring any new money or new hires for transportation. But the transformation refocuses the existing staff. Previously, the city had about 127 people working on transportation, but now it has 1,100 employees — the bulk of the existing Department of Public Works — “that are focused on transportation and mobility,” Cleckley said.

Mayor Michael Hancock has outlined up to $2 billion in proposed transportation spending, but hasn’t identified sources for all of that money.

The recent “Elevate Denver” debt package includes about $431 million for transportation and mobility projects, including $55 million for the bus-rapid transit on East Colfax. But the city would need much more to fulfill its long-term plans, which include transit lines up and down the major corridors and better connections within the city.

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