Candidates for the 15-seat Regional Transportation District board of directors say they will make big changes to a body that was lashed repeatedly in 2012 for delaying portions of the FasTracks project by decades.
Especially critical were residents and public officials from Denver's northern suburbs, which were told this year that without a significant boost in revenue, they may not see any light rail until 2044 — this, in spite of the fact that since 2005 residents of Boulder, Adams and Broomfield counties have contributed $243 million of the roughly $1 billion in tax receipts going to RTD for commuter rail service.
The perceived inequities in service from RTD is a dominant theme, especially for those candidates vying to represent the northern parts of the tax-collecting district.
"Promises have not been kept," said Jan Pawlowski, the former mayor of Brighton and one of four candidates running for the District K seat, which covers much of Adams County.
In all, nine seats are up for grabs on the board with 19 candidates in the mix. Incumbents Bill James, Jeff Walker and Tom Tobiassen are running unopposed.
Current board chairman Lee Kemp is running for the state senate. He represented District I on the board, which includes eastern Boulder County, all of Broomfield County and parts of Weld and Adams counties.
The election is non-partisan. Following is a brief breakdown of the contested races and the candidates.
District E includes parts of Denver, Aurora, Greenwood Village and Centennial. It is currently being represented by William McMullen, who is term-limited.
Claudia Folska wants to make small, common-sense changes to make RTD facilities more accessible for the physically impaired.
Folska is blind. She used RTD buses to travel to classes to earn a dual doctorate at the University of Colorado.
She says she will also push to finish the entire FasTracks project by 2020. "FasTracks is very important to me and I want everyone to get the full benefit of commuter rail," she said.
Mortgage banker Jeff Bjorlin said he will bring fiscal responsibility and "transparency to RTD" and make it easier for low-income riders to afford the service while still balancing the RTD budget.
Former Jefferson County School Board member Vince Chowdhury said RTD must finish the I-225 corridor and other lines scheduled for completion. "It is the board's responsibility to establish that RTD is on the path of being good stewards of taxpayer's money and more proactive about all projects at hand," Chowdhury said.
Libertarian blogger David Williams said he is running for the RTD board because he is "concerned about the ridiculous overpromising and under-delivering by RTD in the past decade." He also worries about eminent domain abuse.
District G includes the cities of Centennial and Lone Tree and is represented by Jack O'Boyle.
O'Boyle said he has worked with business and other agencies to build a "more fiscally sustainable model for RTD to follow. These include cost controls, revenue enhancement without a tax increase and a measured approach to service expansion."
Challenger Gary Lasater, a former Parker mayor, said he feels his part of the metro area is not being well represented. "Our services are continually threatened with cuts, (and) the ratio of taxes paid to services received seems to have a huge inequity," Lasater said.
District H includes Greenwood Village, Cherry Hills Village, Highlands Ranch and parts of Centennial and is represented by incumbent Kent Bagley.
Bagley said he wants to continue to provide good stewardship for a $400 million operating budget and $4.7 billion capital construction under FasTracks. He said he wants to continue to work together with a variety of groups to finish uncompleted portions of FasTracks, including the northern tier.
Challenger Ken Mihalik, who works in the aerospace industry, said there is a growing credibility gap between the RTD board and taxpayers. "Timely is not a word often associated with FasTracks," Mihalik said.
Tom Grushka, a college student and small business owner, said he is the only candidate that relies on mass transit everyday and he sees its flaws. "Over the past four years, RTD has cut services to our district numerous times and IS shipping our money elsewhere," Grushka said.
Jeff Ilseman, a fixture on Longmont's Transportation Advisory Board and other transportation- related bodies, said RTD's entire northwest Rail line plan needs to be re-evaluated. The diesel-powered heavy commuter trains will stop traffic 2,310 times every day and will not reduce pollution or save travel time.Seth Patterson said his 38 years experience in financial and operating management will help him reach creative solutions for the FasTracks project in the north. "Some of the FasTracks plans for the north end are unrealistic and do not provide adequate service in a reasonable time frame," Patterson said.
Cheryl Hauger said her work on the Erie Board of Trustees gives her unique insight into transportation issues. Hauger wants RTD to switch Longmont to the North Rail Line, which goes through Adams County, rather than be part of the Northwest section, which goes through Boulder. "There are always a myriad of funding opportunities for transit and I am committed to aggressively pursuing those opportunities," she said.
Judy Lubow, a retired government attorney who worked for the EPA, said she learned to work effectively within bureaucracies and in getting things done. Lubow said to get FasTracks finished in the northern tier, cities may have to look to new partnerships.
District K is currently being represented by Barry Gore, who was appointed by the Adams County Commissioners after the resignation of Kathi Williams. Gore is not running for the seat.
Pawlowski said she was asked to run by several area mayors. The body needs to return to a "balanced" approach to building out FasTracks and that will likely mean working with other agencies, like the Colorado Department of Transportation, for a viable rail plan. "Steps need to be taken to bridge the 'confidence gap' (between residents and RTD) — not just by the Directors, but the staff as well," she said.
Richard Himmel, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, said the board has lost track of the expectations many people in District K have for RTD — a rail system sooner than 2044. "I am prepared for my constituents to vent all over me," said Himmel. "But at the same time, I'll try and convince them that is (commuter rail) is a really good thing for them, economically and for their quality of life."
Paul Solano, an information specialist, said commuter rail is needed to help low-income residents get to jobs and to better themselves. However, Solano said he is not in favor of a tax increase to build a system. "The money needs to come for other sources."
A fourth candidate, David Elliott, couldn't be reached for comment.
District M consists of much of Jefferson County. It is represented by Matt Cohen, who says much needs to be done to complete the entire FasTracks project.
"Timely to me means long before 2044," Cohen said. He said once consensus has been reached on what the northern suburbs need as far as mass transit, RTD needs to get additional funding to complete it.
Cohen's opponent, Natalie Menten, is a frequent critic of RTD's dealings with property owners. If elected, Menten said she would put RTD's spending records and contracts online for everyone to view. She would also carefully review the board's spending decisions . "I don't rubber-stamp anything," she said.