Washington, D.C. – March 12, 2009 – Michael Bennet, Senator from Colorado, today introduced Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper at a Senate Banking Committee Hearing on sustainable transportation solutions. Hickenlooper provided testimony on the need to rebuild America’s transportation infrastructure in ways that are more energy efficient, less reliant on foreign oil and more sensitive to the environment. Bennet is a member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, which has jurisdiction over transit programs.
“To get our economy back on track, we must make good investments in long-term infrastructure projects like those happening in Denver. The funding in the stimulus package will boost much-needed projects like Denver’s FasTracks and create new jobs. We need long-term solutions to our transportation infrastructure problems and I will work - as a member of the Senate Banking Committee - to make sure the stimulus package and transportation bills this year give a much-needed boost to Colorado.” – Michael Bennet, Senator from Colorado
“This nation cannot deal with our energy and climate challenges without aggressively addressing the transportation sector. Going forward, all federally assisted transportation investments must address energy and climate concerns through needed shifts and reforms in federal policies and programs. These must emphasize sustainable transportation investments, led by increased investment in public transit and inter-city passenger rail. In these economic times especially, we must also see transportation systems as the powerful economic development they tool they are for our communities – an engine that can drive appropriate growth and spur sustainable economic development and land use.” - John Hickenlooper, Mayor of Denver, Colorado
Below are both Senator Bennet’s and Mayor Hickenlooper’s statements at the hearing:
Michael Bennet, Senator from Colorado, Prepared Opening Statement
Senate Banking Committee Hearing
March 12, 2009
Thank you, Chairman Dodd and Ranking Member Shelby for holding this hearing and for inviting Mayor Hickenlooper to be with us today. As I said in my introduction, I can think of no one better to help guide this committee through our discussion on the reauthorization of federal transit programs than John.
As John said in his testimony, there are exciting things going on in Denver when it comes to transit. The FasTracks project, which marks the largest rail expansion in the country, is a model for cooperation at the local and federal level can make reliable, safe public transportation a reality. By the time the project is completed in 2017, the Denver area will have six new commuter rail and light rail corridors, three extensions of existing corridors, 18 miles of Bus Rapid Transit, 21,000 new parking spaces, and a redeveloped Denver Union Station.
As the Secretary mentioned in his testimony, we find ourselves at a crossroads at this time of economic downturn—a crossroads at which we must choose a path that creates jobs and moves us to a cleaner, greener future. My state just received over $100 million in stimulus funding for transit projects, and I thank the Secretary for holding up his end of the bargain by putting this money into the community so quickly. I know that my state will put it to good use.
Having said that, I know my state and many others continue to face funding challenges when it comes to transit funding. Many transit systems, like Denver’s Regional Transportation District (RTD), are funded through sales taxes. In this time of economic distress, as families cut back and tighten their purse strings, this source of revenue has not provided our transit systems with the funding they need to meet the challenges associated with the increased ridership that has been a direct result of that very economic downturn.
As we continue to deal with our national economic crisis, that the federal government must play a role in helping local transportation entities more adequately meet those needs. I hope to discuss what that role can and should be today and in the hearings to come.
At the same time, I am interested to know how we can increase the private sector’s role in creating our transit future. The Denver metro transit system is participating in an FTA pilot program called the Private Partnership Pilot Program (Penta-P) that has the potential to transform the way we develop, finance, and maintain transit systems. I am closely following the project in Colorado and will be keeping this model in mind as the committee works on the reauthorization bill.
Finally, I want to touch on the significance this bill has on transit in rural areas. While urban areas understandably receive the bulk of federal transit dollars, I want to make sure that we do not forget our rural communities during this reauthorization process. An increasing number of seniors and people with disabilities rely on public transportation in the rural parts of Colorado, and while their transit options look quite a bit different from those in the more urban areas, it is no less important for them to reap the benefits of a new and improved transit future.
My time has expired, and I thank the Chairman, Ranking Member, and our witnesses.
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John Hickenlooper, Mayor of Denver, Colorado
Senate Banking Committee Hearing
March 12, 2009
Thank you, Senator Dodd and Ranking Member Shelby for the opportunity to speak to this committee today on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the City of Denver, Colorado. Thank you, Senator Bennet for the kind introduction and the support of our regional transportation efforts.
This nation cannot deal with our energy and climate challenges without addressing the transportation sector head on. What this means is that, going forward, all federally assisted transportation investments must address energy and climate concerns through needed shifts and reforms in federal policies and programs. These must emphasize sustainable transportation investments, led by increased investment in public transit and inter-city passenger rail.
To accelerate the achievements of more sustainable transportation solutions, federal policy must increasingly empower local elected officials – especially in metropolitan areas – to make the decisions on how federal transportation resources are invested.
As Mayor of Denver, my own perspective on the transportation authorization bill is driven by our experience in collaboration across the metropolitan region to build our FasTracks transit project. Metro Denver has been nationally recognized for our capacity to plan and work collaboratively across potentially balkanized local political jurisdictions – from our FasTracks transit project to our regional economic development initiatives to our cultural facilities tax district, all of which involve and benefit the localities within the eight Metro Denver counties.
FasTracks also represents the possibility for successful transit not just in dense older cities but across the American West. As has been the case in other cities that have embarked on ambitious transit projects, FasTracks has tremendous potential for positive change, from congestion-reduction to energy-savings. Most importantly, in these difficult economic times, it holds the possibility for sustainable economic development through job creation.
Transit has also been an economic development tool for Denver and the region. Having a well-planned, accessible, efficient transit system demonstrates a city’s focus on its economic future. It is crucial to a city’s ability to attract visitors and conventions – in fact, our transit planning was key to Denver successfully hosting the DNC.
Denver Union Station – an icon of Denver’s transportation history – is being redeveloped as a modern, multimodal transit hub, making it easier for people to access goods and services, and creating hundreds of jobs: both short-term in its construction and long-term in the new retail developments it will include.
Transit-oriented developments (TODs) are one of our key priorities because they create economic vitality, improve quality of life and public safety. Because of their density and mixed uses, TODs are sustainable communities. Transit can also drive appropriate growth and spur sustainable economic development and land use.
We deeply appreciate what the Congress did in SAFETEA, which changed New Starts criteria by raising assessment of economic development and land use impact analysis to top priorities, alongside cost-benefit analysis. When the NYC subway system was constructed, they built lines out to cow pastures in Brooklyn, and the growth followed. We envision the same 20- to 25-year return on investment by expanding our lines to Boulder and Longmont.
HOWEVER, the problem has been in implementation by DOT, not Congress, which failed to balance these factors and instead focused on simply dividing the number of current riders by the cost per mile. The analysis doesn’t adequately take into account future population changes and out-year ridership. As I understand it, if you plan to build a transit station in a place where you know growth is coming, the evaluation forecasts zero ridership. I understand that economic benefit and land use are difficult to measure, but there are ways to do it.
It is critical that this forward-thinking investment, as well as environmental impact be considered by DOT now and reasserted in any reauthorization.
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