CDOT to withhold $ 34 million in federal money from RTD – unless spent on services in Boulder and Longmont

The Colorado Department of Transportation said it would transfer $ 34 million in federal stimulus funds to the Regional Transportation District to restore more transit service – if RTD spends it on service in Boulder and Longmont.

CDOT officials say the money is to be used to restore express buses between Denver and Boulder and Denver and Longmont via Flatiron Flyers 2, 4 and LX1 and LX2.

Since US 36 between Denver and Boulder was rebuilt with mass transit infrastructure in the mid-2010s, ridership has exploded on Flatiron Flyer express buses with more than 13,000 passengers per day. The COVID-19 pandemic has reduced that figure to around 2,000 per day.

Now CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew has written in a letter to RTD, now is the time to expand the service there and rebuild the demand. The department wants to replicate the success of the United States 36 elsewhere in its efforts to reduce global warming emissions.

“At this critical time, the absence of this service is particularly glaring – especially given the extent of funds available specifically to support the recovery of the public transport sector,” she wrote.

The money would come from the US Federal bailout plan. The CDOT controls this federal funding stream for transit service in small urban areas, including Boulder, Longmont, and Lafayette-Louisville-Erie.

CDOT gave RTD a deadline on Friday to accept the terms of the letter. The Federal Transport Administration told CDOT earlier this month that he must allocate the $ 34 million by Oct. 31, or that he could withhold more federal grants this fall.

Local governments in the northwest corner of the Denver metro also pushed RTD to sign a deal that would provide more transit service there. RTD also received dozens of requests from riders for the Flatiron Flyer service.

An RTD spokesperson said CEO Debra Johnson had yet to review the letter. But RTD staff told their board this week that they still don’t have enough bus drivers to restore more service.

“Our operator’s situation is very, very real,” said Jessie Carter, head of service planning and scheduling at RTD. “If we had a choice at this point, we would activate a number of services. ”

Federal rules also require RTD to ensure that any significant change in service does not have disparate effects on low-income and minority populations. Throughout the pandemic, RTD runners were more likely to be low-income or from minority backgrounds. The agency adapted his cuts to affect these groups the least.

The Flatiron Flyer along US 36 doesn’t serve many low-income or minority residents, Carter told the board. Additional service in these areas should also coincide with more service in other areas with more minorities and low-income people, he said.

Courtesy of the Regional Transportation District
This RTD map shows “equity zones,” which are areas that have low-income or minority populations of 10% or more than the district-wide average.

Several iterations of the Flatiron Flyer are still working, Carter added.

“It’s really hard for us to say that this area… needs more branches, when we still don’t have service in other areas,” he said.

Several members of the Denver board of directors, including Shontel Lewis, Kate Williams and President Angie Rivera-Malpiede, mentioned the concerted effort of the leaders of the Northwest region and contrasted it with their own constituents. .

“In my community, which depends on public transit and the working poor, they generally don’t have a voice. Because they are too busy to survive, ”said Rivera-Malpiede. “They don’t have time to write letters, they don’t have time to come to meetings, they don’t have time to call board members.

“Just because some of our constituents are well educated and well organized, fortunately, doesn’t mean they receive more service than our constituents we don’t hear much about,” Williams added.

Governor Jared Polis, who appointed Lew and controls the CDOT, is a resident of Boulder. When asked if this was factored into CDOT’s letter to RTD, Lew replied, “No. “

Polis lobbied RTD to fund the long-delayed commuter train line to Boulder. He told Colorado Matters this spring that RTD needed “reform, not money.” A transport law supported by the Polis and signed this year will generate billions of dollars without new revenue dedicated to RTD.

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