The Colorado Department of Transportation has issued an ultimatum to RTD: Reinstate key commuter bus routes in Boulder and Longmont that run along US 36, including two Flatiron Flyer lines, or lose some of the federal pandemic relief money the agency is counting on.
At stake is $ 34.2 million, which is part of the transit aid money earmarked for Boulder County under the U.S. rescue plan approved by Congress earlier this year. This federal money on the outskirts of the Denver metro is usually funneled to the Regional Transportation District through CDOT.
But in an unusual move, CDOT chief executive Shoshana Liu wrote in a letter sent on Tuesday that she would only sign the transfer if the agency agreed to reopen bus routes, which were among those suspended during the pandemic. In a letter addressed to RTD CEO and CEO Debra Johnson, RTD is given a deadline until Friday to accept the CDOT terms.
RTD spokeswoman Martha Sipeki confirmed Johnson received Liu’s letter but said the agency did not comment on Wednesday.
The tricky part for CDOT’s position is that the FTA told Liu in a recent letter that CDOT must transfer the money by October 31 to RTD or another transit provider. Failure to do so could harm the competitiveness of several Colorado transit agencies if they apply for a new $ 2.2 billion pandemic assistance program this fall, the FTA told CDOT.
The money held by CDOT represents about 10% of RTD’s total $ 338 million appropriation under the American Rescue Plan.
Overall, including previously adopted federal COVID relief bills, RTD has been approved for $ 773 million in pandemic relief since last year. It depends on money to support its budget for several years amid still lagging passenger traffic, especially among commuters.
Lew’s letter is the latest move by the administration of Gov. Jared Polis and Boulder County leaders to pressure RTD to provide more services in the area. Earlier this year, Polis, who lives in Boulder, pushed RTD to complete a costly 35-mile B-Line extension to Boulder and Longmont, as promised as part of a 2004 voter-approved FasTracks Subway Transit Expansion Package. RTD cannot afford the $ 1.5 billion price tag, but has agreed to explore ways to provide limited service.
On the suspended bus routes, Liu pointed out that CDOT and RTD have spent hundreds of millions of dollars expanding $ 36 over the past decade.
“The state has invested approximately half a billion dollars in upgrading the US 36 with lane control, which was specifically designed to accommodate the high-speed bus service provided by the Flatiron Flyer express routes,” Liu wrote. “These routes quickly became some of the most successful in the region …”
These overlapping routes averaged about 13,000 landings per day prior to the pandemic. “Flatiron Flyer FF1 – the only scheduled route still operating – now has just 2,000 flights a day,” said Jesse Carter, service planning and scheduling agency manager, during RTD’s board meeting this week.
The routes that Lew has called for RTD to restore are FF2 and FF4, which run between Boulder and downtown Denver stations; and LX1 and LX2, which are express routes between Longmont and downtown Denver. In addition to FF1, RTD currently operates a limited number of flights on two other Flyer routes and operates four weekday buses on the LD1 non-express route between Longmont and Denver.
Carter spoke Tuesday night during an RTD board discussion of upcoming service changes. Director Lynn Gissinger, whose O county includes much of Boulder County, said she has received repeated requests to restore more Flatiron Flyer services.
RTD representatives responded that they prioritized restoring other routes due to Flyers’ high operating costs, insufficient demand from downtown passengers and a continuing shortage of RTD operators, among other factors.
RTD manpower shortages are part of a wider problem affecting private and public employers, including CDOT maintenance and snow removal personnel.
Another round of service recovery last month raised RTD service levels to about 70% from pre-pandemic levels, but officials said staffing levels are declining.
The hotspot on Boulder County routes also highlights RTD’s long-standing tension between fairness and commuter traffic.
Carter said other parts of the Denver metro are still lacking any service, and some routes with higher traffic than Flyer routes are currently in need of expansion because they serve more low-income or community-based people. who rely heavily on RTD services.
“My team is very keen to get back to providing better service and returning routes that we are used to seeing high traffic,” he said. “This includes US Corridor 36, but it also includes other parts of the county.”
But Gissinger said the failure to restore Flyer routes, even on a limited basis during peak hours, made RTD less attractive to commuter passengers.
“I’m trying to think about how we can make something work, because it’s clear – we are losing riders because of all this,” she said.
Lew echoed this point in her letter, writing that she was withholding aid money because the Boulder and Longmont routes “are essential for the mobility of Colorado residents in urbanized areas for which these federal (transit formula) funds have been explicitly allocated.”