North Broadway Reconstruction Conundrum

The North Broadway (Violet – U.S. 36) reconstruction project is scheduled to begin construction in 2020. In 2015, city transportation staff did a marvelous job winning $6.2 million in federal grant funding for this project through the DRCOG TIP program. The total project is budgeted around $8.3 million and by putting up $2.1 million of the city’s own money we are able to get a lot more bang for our buck through the TIP program. We do not want to lose access to this money.

One of the stipulations of the $6.2 million award is to have this project out for bid no later than October 1, 2019. Last Monday, July 8, TAB was asked at its monthly board meeting to provide feedback on the design plan. This was not yet a public hearing item – it was informational only – but nonetheless during the public comment portion of the meeting we heard from nearly 20 individuals in the community regarding their concerns about the North Broadway design. In addition, TAB received dozens of emails before and after Monday’s board meeting, and there also has been a lot of active dialogue about the project on Twitter. The reason: none of the design options put forth by staff do enough for bicycling. The recommended design option offers a 5-ft buffered bike lane — an improvement over the current configuration but nowhere near the grade separated and protected bike infrastructure that have been widely discussed as preferred facilities to truly invite users of all ages and potentially change travel behavior. We heard from the public a wide variety of concerns with similar themes: the design options don’t do enough toward our recently updated 2030 goal to reduce GhG emissions by getting people out of the cars; we aren’t creating 15-minute walkable neighborhoods; paint is not enough to maintain cyclist safety; it’s not about how safe a facility might be, it’s about how safe it feels; we need to lead and create transformative change; this plan is basically perpetuating the status quo; this stretch of road is designated as part of the low-stress network but who would let their 8-yr old child (or 80-yr old parent) ride in a buffered bike lane with 30mph cars (if they are following the proposed speed limit) on one side and cars parked within door-strike range on the other? All these comments point to the same concern – that the design options put forth by staff seem antithetical to our TMP. Yet city transportation staff are the first to admit they would love to do more. What gives?

There are two main reasons for being where we are:

  1. The primary purpose of the grant funding is to reconstruct the roadway along North Broadway in concrete. This is how the grant request was written and approved, and this is what we need to build. As we consider various design alternatives, it’s important to understand there are checks and balances to make sure our use of the federal dollars aligns with the original intention of our application. (For DRCOG funded projects, CDOT is the agency that serves this function and transportation planners will meet with CDOT to get their sign-off on our designs.) Yes, we are allowed to improve multimodal infrastructure as part of the roadway improvements, but for example we can’t switch to asphalt streets instead of concrete to open up some budget for more expensive bike facilities. We can’t shorten the length of roadway that is in scope. At a fundamental level we’re not allowed to change how we use the money.
  2. Construction costs have increased wildly since this project was proposed. Staff historically included a 2% annual inflation rate in its budget estimates, but cost increases have been more like 5-6% since this project was awarded in 2015. There is less we can do with the funding we have, because everything is more expensive now. (Staff has updated their practices to reflect current inflation rates in other projects that have been awarded more recently.)

This leaves us in a quandary. The project was initially slated as a roadway reconstruction project, not a multimodal improvement project. Previous TAB and community input 5 years ago made no objection to the project scope, so it has proceeded on its course. The community is now realizing there will be a huge missed opportunity, one we will be living with for decades, if we don’t make more out of this project now.

As staff listened to TAB feedback and community feedback, it became clear¬† we are stuck. The proposed designs fall short of community desires. We have to get this project out for bid by October 1 or risk losing the funding altogether. That’s less than 3 months to try to course-correct. (Staff has in the past attempted getting extensions from DRCOG regarding TIP funding, notably on the Baseline Underpass project. This is a tenuous undertaking because other communities who competed for this funding would be happy to grab the money for their projects. So, while it may be possible to request an extension, there are no assurances of success.)

So, what’s next? A couple of things are happening:

  • Staff and TAB have agreed to a special workshop on July 22 from 6-8pm to specifically discuss North Broadway. What other design options are possible, how much additional will they cost, and what are the trade-offs.
  • Staff has offered a 1 hour walking tour of the North Broadway Project area on Thursday, July 18 at 5pm at the northwest corner of Broadway and Violet Avenue.¬† This is an opportunity to look at existing conditions on site and understand location of the options and ideas for bike facilities to prepare for the working session on July 22.

Both of these events will be publicly noticed; TAB and city staff openly welcomes anyone who wishes to participate.

The good news is that North Broadway is nearly exclusively a city corridor and unlike many other corridors (East Arapahoe, Canyon, 28th St) the city does not share jurisdiction with CDOT or other entities. We have a lot of latitude here. The bad news is there is no ‘slush fund’ in our transportation budget to just reallocate the needed money from somewhere else. TAB recently approved the CIP Budget and there is no money that would be an obvious target for reallocation to North Broadway. How much money are we talking about? As a point of reference, at the July 8 TAB meeting, staff shared some back-of-the-napkin calculations looking at a new option for bike/ped infrastructure proposed by TAB member Alex Weinheimer; this option would add roughly $2.4 million to the project.

We will be brainstorming and reviewing other options, and hopefully we can find a design more desirable than buffered bike lanes while maintaining the original project objective. But it’s unlikely it will be attainable with existing budget. Whatever the revised price tag turns out to be, we’ll need more funding to make it happen. Where will the money come from?

This is my question, and my reason for writing this post. Whatever updated design options we come up with, we will likely need more money.

What are we willing to give up (if the money comes from the transportation budget)?

If we look beyond transportation, my understanding is only money from the city’s General Fund can be allocated to this project. First, is this true? Second, if true then what community activism would be needed to convince the City Manager to free up money for North Broadway?

 

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