Monday, June 25, 2007 an Indispensable Resource

I feel compelled to devote one of my blog entries to my favorite website and blog, This site is the indispensable guide to urban real estate developments, planning and design questions and the elimination of surface parking lots and other blight in downtown Denver. Ken Schroeppel, self described “..urban planner, downtown enthusiast, and avid Denver booster who lives and works in the Mile High City..”, created and produces this site. is an encyclopedic source of information on downtown Denver buildings and new developments with block by block aerial photographs, maps, neighborhood "scorecards" which track infill projects, special features and a frequently updated blog with photographs and renderings of new developments ( When Ken takes a few days off from writing his blog, I find myself eagerly awaiting the next installment and the exciting new information it will bring provides dynamic evidence of the incredible changes re-shaping the Denver cityscape and impacting the regional economy. As the core of downtown Denver becomes denser, more vital and better served by public transportation, the increased access to urban amenities and choices promotes economic growth and competitiveness throughout the metropolitan region. Its a pleasure to watch this Mile High evolution occur on

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Competitive Case for Building Rail Transport Between Metro Denver and the Mountain Ski Resorts

Denver and Colorado are world renown for the Rocky Mountains. Their recreational opportunities and scenic splendor are key amenities that draw tourists and residents to the area. However, according to a study by Development Research Partners, Colorado loses nearly one billion dollars per year due to congestion on the I-70 corridor between Metro Denver and the mountain ski resorts. To maintain Colorado’s international competitiveness as an attractive place to visit, live, work and play, the state needs to invest in a cost-effective way to improve mobility on the I-70 corridor. Based on preliminary high level assessments, a fixed rail transportation system appears to be the best way to achieve this goal. Of course the state of Colorado should confirm this argument by conducting rigorous environmental impact evaluations of alternative solutions. (Photo from Denver Post/John Leyba)

An April 2007 study by Development Research Partners (, sponsored by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce (, estimated that the state of Colorado loses $839 million per year in 2005 dollars from productivity and efficiency reductions, lost time, forgone tax revenues and reduced tourist spending due to I-70 corridor congestion.

Although Colorado is the number one destination for overnight ski trips in the United States with 18.1% market share as of 2004, it is clear that the state’s competitive position in this key economic sector is not unassailable. In fact the state’s market share has declined from 20% in 1994. (See Colorado Tourism Update, The Center for Travel and Tourism, May 2006 from Longwoods International). One factor in this decline may be the increasing levels of congestion along the I-70 route from Denver to the mountain ski resorts in Colorado.

When the I-70 congestion is viewed in the context of regional cross-state competition for alpine tourism, it becomes a critically important issue for the Colorado economy. In Utah, one of Colorado’s primary competitors, many resorts are close to the Salt Lake City International Airport (SLCIA). For example both Park City and Alta are only a 45 minute drive from SLCIA. In Colorado, most out of state visitors to mountain resorts rely on automotive ground transportation from Denver International Airport (DIA) which takes a minimum of two hours but can take much longer depending on weather and traffic conditions. Currently there are few alternatives for accessing the Colorado resorts given the limited number of flights into Eagle County, Aspen and other alpine airports. In view of these logistical realities, it is particularly important to ensure a quick, smooth trip to the Colorado ski resorts to maintain state competitiveness in the alpine tourism market.

There are a number of possible methods to reduce congestion on I-70, including implementing traffic management systems with real-time electronic messaging to drivers about traffic delays, establishing car pool incentives, increasing the use of buses, widening I-70 and building a fixed rail transit system.

As a long term solution, the fixed rail option has some clear advantages over other proposed solutions. Properly designed rail with a dedicated right of way would be less impacted by peak congestion and poor weather conditions because it could bypass auto accidents, slippery roads and traffic jams. Rail also has a lower environmental impact compared to widening I-70 because it takes up less land and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Rail has other advantages as well. A rail transit system creates a physical and symbolic link between the emerging urban scene in Denver and the mountains, reinforcing a Colorado lifestyle of urban vitality combined with access to nature. A rail link with scenic views, dramatic bridges and high quality on-board amenities and services could become a tourist attraction in and of itself as has been demonstrated on a limited basis by the success of the Ski Train from Union Station to Winter Park ( Additionally, if the timing were right, the rail link could be used as a centerpiece in a Denver bid to host the Winter Olympics, if not by 2018, perhaps 2022 or beyond.

The upcoming build out of the FasTracks transit system in the Denver Metro area provides an opportunity to connect Denver International Airport (DIA), Union Station in downtown Denver, and other metro locations to the mountain ski resorts without ever having to set foot in an automobile. To make a rail connection along the I-70 corridor convenient to passengers, there should be a single route linking DIA, Union Station and the mountain resorts, allowing passengers boarding at DIA to stay on the same train for their entire trip.

Although building a rail system designed to operate at steep mountain grades and in adverse weather conditions imposes technical challenges, these obstacles have been overcome in other places such as Switzerland. I can not recommend the best technology to use for the rail system but believe technologies such as those used by the Swiss light rail system FLIRT, various versions of MAGLEV technologies, Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) and others should be explored.

The Rocky Mountain Rail Authority (RMRA) and Colorado Rail Association (CRA) ( ) are conducting feasibility studies for a state-wide rail program which would include a link from Denver to the I-70 mountain resorts. The CRA is planning a November 2008 state-wide ballot initiative which would create a state rail authority, approve funding via an incremental sales tax and bond issuing powers, and allow intergovernmental agreements with other regional states to build a rail system. The I-70 Mountain Corridor Coalition ( ), led by the Colorado Department of Transit (CDOT), is also preparing to release a final report on improving mobility on I-70. While this work is extremely commendable, the state should take care to ensure that comprehensive due diligence has been performed prior to making a final decision on this multi-billion dollar investment with a 50 year planning horizon. Making and carrying out the right decision will require political leadership from the highest levels in Colorado government and a project of this scope needs the direct involvement of Governor Bill Ritter.

Voters in the Metro Denver area have been willing to approve taxes in the past to fund sports stadiums, public transit build outs and cultural institutions. Colorado has shown a willingness to take on enormous transportation projects such as DIA, T-Rex, and FasTracks. After appropriate environmental impact and feasibility assessments are completed, Coloradans should have the wisdom and vision to make a long term investment in the state’s competitiveness and future to ensure safe, reliable and free-flowing fixed rail access to the region’s greatest natural asset – the Rocky Mountains.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Introduction to A View of the Rockies: A Regional Economic Development Blog for Denver

“A View of the Rockies: A Regional Economic Development Blog for Denver,” by Jeff Kraft, is a discussion of economic development issues impacting the Denver Metropolitan Area and beyond in the Rocky Mountain West. This blog seeks to offer commentary and analysis from the perspective of a native son of Colorado who has been “living abroad” on the American coasts but retains a deep passion for Colorado (and is a life long Colorado Buffaloes and Denver Broncos fan).

The foundational belief of this blog is that the overwhelming majority of technological, intellectual and cultural innovations occurs within the confines of urban centers which enable and inspire creativity and spawn economic growth. Denver has a key role to play in the economic life of the United States as the hub of economic, transportation, communication, financial, cultural, governmental and intellectual activity in the Rocky Mountain West. The economic health and future prosperity of the entire Rocky Mountain region is closely tied to Denver’s economic success.

The perspective taken here is that Denver, gateway to the Rockies, with unique assets in its population, location, history and economic base, has always been an “aspirational” city with visions for a grander future. In recent years Denver has discovered its urban soul, in striving to create a vital, livable, walkable and sustainable built environment and unique sense of place supporting a multitude of diverse lifestyles. The City of Denver’s movement in the direction of infill construction, new urbanist re-development, public transportation build outs, 24 hour activity and investments in public infrastructure are positive trends which need to be encouraged and coordinated through public policy and the actions of private and non-profit participants. Denver can take pride in its achievements over past two decades and in the fact that the city is approaching a tipping point toward becoming a desirable and vital urban center. However, now is not the time for the Denver community to rest on its laurels. Instead the city must seize the moment and define a path to the future leading to economic prosperity, resource sustainability, cultural vitality and the achievement of its aspirations.

In a world of intense global economic competition, local quality of life issues become critically important in attracting and retaining footloose international capital, talent and enterprises. Local issues both shape and are shaped by global trends and forces which, in turn, can either reinforce or undermine local economic competitive advantages. It has become a cliché, but Denver is not just competing with Seattle and Atlanta but also with Dublin and Bangalore. Denver and the surrounding region needs to think strategically in making decisions and investments which impact the entire Rocky Mountain West’s global competitive standing and economic health.

Frequently Asked Questions About “A View of the Rockies”

Q. How Can You Provide Commentary About Economic Development Issues in Denver and the Rocky Mountain Region When You Don’t Live Here?

A. Although I have not lived in Colorado full time for the past twenty years, I have been following the development of economic, transportation and cultural infrastructure in Denver while living in the San Francisco Bay and the New York Metropolitan areas. From growing up in Colorado, regular visits back home, on-going conversations with residents, intensive on-line research and with the vantage point of living in distant and unique metropolitan areas, my goal is to offer a useful and distinct perspective on economic development issues in the Rocky Mountain West. My hope is that my perspective as a very interested but distant observer over an extended period of time, can contribute, in a small way, to the strategic dialog about Denver and Colorado’s economic and cultural future.

Q. This Blog mentions “the City of Denver,” “the Denver Metro Area,” “Colorado” and “The Rocky Mountain West”. What Geographic Area Does this Blog Cover?

A. "A View of the Rockies" is primarily concerned with economic development issues in the City and County of Denver and the Denver Metropolitan Area. There are a number of ways to define metro areas including definitions provided by government agencies (Metropolitan Statistical Areas or MSAs defined by the federal Office of Management and Budget), private companies (Major Trading Areas defined by Rand McNally) and others. These definitions can be based on economic activity, commuting patterns or governmental jurisdictions. For purposes of this blog, unless specified otherwise, I am defining Metro Denver the same way the regional association of local governments does, as the nine country region which makes up the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG including Denver, Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Clear Creek, Douglas, Gilpin and Jefferson counties and the municipalities inside them. However, because of the economic interdependency between Metro Denver, the State of Colorado and the broader Rocky Mountain Western Region, the blog will sometimes venture into discussions and analysis involving these wider geographic areas.