A Plan to Reduce Congestion in Denver

Policy Study

A Plan to Reduce Congestion in Denver

A new approach to increase mobility, improve bus service, and create sustainable funding sources for infrastructure in Denver

This report provides a detailed framework for Denver to increase its mobility. With significant growth projected over the next 25 years, Denver’s productivity and quality of life are threatened by a lack of mobility.

Denver is at a crossroads in terms of transportation policy. Implementing the current 2035 Metro Vision Regional Transportation Plan will lead to a future of dramatically worsening congestion, in which the average peak-period trip is projected to take 80% longer than at off-hours (compared with 40% longer, as of now). That approach would continue to spend substantial transportation resources on rail transit and non-motorized transportation. While both have benefits, they are not the key to reducing congestion.

By contrast, we have developed a comprehensive transportation system consisting of road and transit improvements that reduce congestion and increase mobility more effectively and more cheaply than the DRCOG 2035 plan. By including the congestion reduction components of the 2035 Metro Vision Regional Transportation Plan and replacing the rail and non-motorized projects with additional projects to reduce congestion, our plan more effectively increases mobility.

Our plan for the state and regional highway totals $22 billion. Assuming the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) chooses to spend an additional $15 billion on local roads and an additional $15 billion to provide transit services, the 30-year total would be $52 billion. This $52 billion plan spends only 39% of the $133 billion in the DRCOG 2012 long-range plan and covers a longer time period of 30 years (from 2015-2044) compared to 24 years (2012-2035) for the DRCOG plan. More importantly, our plan has a realistic funding and financing source, filling a $6 billion hole with the transition to a mileage-based user fee, while the current DRCOG plan has a $40 billion hole that the entity has no realistic way of funding. Unlike the DRCOG’s 2035 plan that hopes to spend $133 billion dollars and still results in worse congestion, our plan significantly reduces congestion and saves money.

Our plan includes the following components:

  • Making major investments in dynamically priced express lane capacity
  • Making minor investments in general purpose capacity
  • Developing a network of managed arterials
  • Improving the operation and management of the system through operational changes
  • Creating an express bus network running on the ETL network
  • Creating a bus rapid transit network running on managed arterials

Our plan also offers motorists a choice of paying tolls on express lanes and managed arterials in exchange for faster and more reliable trips or using free lanes that operate at lower traffic speeds. Our plan offers a transit option that provides quick, reliable service using electronic toll lanes, overpasses and underpasses, express lanes and managed arterials for commuters who choose to use transit at a cost-effective price. Our plan also offers continued free lanes on freeways and arterials for motorists who do not choose to take advantage of the express lanes in their car or as a transit rider. And our plan offers each of these three choices cost-effectively.

Congestion threatens to strangle Denver, destroying its viability as a place to live and work, as well as its position as a major economic center. But as former Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said, “Congestion is not a scientific mystery, nor is it an uncontrollable force. Congestion results from poor policy choices and a failure to separate solutions that are effective from those that are not.” The policy choices recommended in this report would put Denver on the road to greatly increased mobility by 2040.

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Baruch Feigenbaum is assistant director of transportation Policy at Reason Foundation a non-profit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.