Voters Could Give Denver a New Department of Transportation and Infrastructure

A Department of Public Works wastewater vehicle parked in front of City Hall during a press conference this morning. Photo: Andy Bosselman
A Department of Public Works wastewater vehicle parked in front of City Hall during a press conference this morning. Photo: Andy Bosselman

Denver wants its own Department of Transportation, but you can call it DOTI.

City officials and transportation advocates gathered today on the steps of City Hall to announce the proposed transformation of the Department of Public Works into a new Department of Transportation and Infrastructure.

Unlike other cities, where public works departments have spun off transportation functions into dedicated DOTs, Denver’s proposed department will be responsible for city streets, the refuse bins on its sidewalks, and the sewers underneath.

“Because these functions play out every day in our public right of way, both under and above ground, it’s imperative we keep these functions under the umbrella of our transportation department,” said Mayor Michael Hancock.

Piep van Heuven, chair of the Denver Streets Partnership. Photo: Andy Bosselman
Piep van Heuven, chair of the Denver Streets Partnership. Photo: Andy Bosselman

The new department would shift its primary focus to transportation, while allowing it to coordinate its non-transportation projects under a new “one build” approach. For example, instead of digging up a street two times, once to repave it, and later to replace the neighborhood’s sewers, this new planning process would anticipate the repaving project and plan for it to follow the sewer replacement.

“It will allow the department to plan and deliver in a synchronized way,” said Piep van Heuven, chair of the Denver Streets Partnership. “Repaving, crosswalks, signage, Xcel and Denver Water’s work can happen in concert.”

Forming the new department, which Streetsblog called for in 2016 and officials have discussed formally since 2017, requires changing the city’s charter. To do that, the city council will soon be asked to send an amendment to November’s ballot for voters to approve.

The proposed Department of Transportation and Infrastructure would include a division of Public Works within its structure. That division would hold onto responsibility for solid waste and wastewater.

Keeping those functions within one charter agency prevents the city from forming an additional department, which the city estimates will save $7.3 million annually in administrative costs. Though forming the agency comes with no new source of revenue, Eulois Cleckly, the current head of Public Works, says that the money the new department saves could be reinvested to advance the city’s transportation needs.

Public Works executive director Eulois Cleckley. Photo: Andy Bosselman
Public Works executive director Eulois Cleckley. Photo: Andy Bosselman

“We can use that money to build out the rest of our bicycle infrastructure, all the multi-modal projects we have slated,” he said.

These projects include physical changes to city streets, like the mayor’s pledge to build 125 miles of new bike lanes within five years and pedestrian safety improvements called for under the city’s Vision Zero pledge to end all traffic fatalities within the next 11 years. 

The charter change would also allow the city to offer transportation services. Though there are no plans to do so now, the city could one day pay the Regional Transportation District to provide additional transit service within Denver, or create its own transit agency to run alongside RTD.

  • TakeFive

    Great write-up. Excellent coverage of what is being done and why.

  • Cvdl

    Tell me again how there are any savings that can be spent on bike infrastructure? Since they didn’t create the new department, so they didn’t actually save any money. It seems like what is changing is (1) changing the name; (2) potentially increasing planning efforts to try to coordinate timing of Denver’s own projects with those of Xcel, Denver Water, etc. which could increase planning costs; and (3) potentially offering transportation services, again increasing costs. I’m not opposed to those things, but the communications sound like a bait and switch.

    • TakeFive

      Those savings are pretty funky. You save by NOT creating two separate agencies, Haha.

      The city already has a full plate with ~$450 million of Elevate Denver bond projects. Most of that presumably will be sub-contracted out to the private sector. Other than petty cash it will be up to voters to fund additional needs.

      • Cvdl

        They still need somebody to oversee those contracts. Since they’re already short on strong construction project managers, that should get interesting. My guess is that the 1100 employees are all the current employees of Public Works (last I checked, PW had about 1100 employees), who will now all be employees of DOTI, not new employees. And, those employees already have jobs that need to get done and skill sets that fit their current duties, so it’s hard to imagine they have the time or skills to work on transportation. And, they’re smoking something if they think they can get Xcel and Denver Water’s projects to align with Denver’s schedule without significantly increasing costs. Denver projects rarely stay on schedule – is Denver Water just going to sit around and wait?

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