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In his State of the City Address, Mayor Michael Hancock outlined plans for $2 billion in transportation investment in Colorado’s booming capital.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock on Monday called for aggressive new investment in the fast-growing city’s transportation network.
The mayor made his remarks as part of his State of the City Address. During the speech, Hancock also stressed the need to ensure that longtime residents and businesses are not driven from neighborhoods as the city’s population expands and property values rise.
"Denver feels more crowded, because we are,” Hancock said.
But he added: "This city will show how development can serve our needs, not victimize us.”
Hancock announced a new “Mobility Action Plan" and said the city must be prepared to spend at least $2 billion on its transportation network in the next 12 years. Investments that are part of the action plan would be designed to encourage people to use transportation other than cars.
The mayor said about 73 percent of Denver commuters now drive to and from work by themselves. Goals for 2030, which the mayor outlined in his speech, include cutting that figure to 50 percent, and to have 30 percent of commuters biking, walking or taking mass transit.
“We’re going to have to act fast before gridlock becomes a way of life,” he said.
The Mobility Action Plan would involve a wide range of investments, such as sidewalk and intersection upgrades and building out bus rapid transit lines along busy corridors.
Central to the transportation investment plans the mayor described is a proposed general obligation bond that would require voter approval and would appear on this November’s ballot.
As of early June, a special committee helping with planning for the bond had identified nearly $750 million of project costs that the borrowed money could go to cover. Of that total amount, about $370 million falls under transportation and mobility spending. The remaining amount is spread across investments in other areas like parks, libraries and jail improvements.
Going forward, the mayor and the City Council are expected to work out final recommendations for the bond package, which would be within the city’s current bond capacity of $800 million to $900 million, according to information from the city’s department of finance.
The consolidated government of the City and County of Denver currently spends about $75 million each year on transportation and mobility, according to information in the action plan.
All together, the mayor’s office says that around $1.6 billion of the $2 billion in funding has been identified, leaving a gap of about $350 million.
Last week, Hancock announced that the city would reorganize its public works department, with the aim of better addressing transportation and mobility issues.
Denver’s population as of last year had increased to around 693,000, up about 15 percent from roughly 599,000 in 2010, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
Figures from the National Association of Realtors for the first quarter of this year ranked home prices in the Denver region 12th compared to other major U.S. metro areas. The median sales price for existing single-family homes in the city checked in at about $396,000, the figures show.
Discussing growth and real estate development in the city, Hancock said “Denver has a market that’s responding to the greatest return on investment, not the greatest needs of our people.”
“If it’s not impacting you personally, then you know a friend, co-worker or relative who has been priced out of the market,” he added.
The mayor touted efforts by the city to expand affordable housing and to support homebuyers, including a $150 million affordable housing fund and a mortgage tax credit. And he highlighted efforts by the city to manage development with neighborhood plans and zoning rules.
Hancock also pledged that the city budget he sends to the City Council in September would prioritize “anti-displacement” measures.
“It’s our job to bring opportunities to communities, especially communities of color, that lift people up, not push them out,” the mayor said. “But it’s not easy.”
Bill Lucia is a Senior Reporter for Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.