A Question for John Hickenlooper

A governor is the taxpayers’ last line of defense against money-hungry bureaucrats who incessantly seek their “fair share” of worker incomes in the form of higher taxes for all sorts of boondoggles. Governors can limit the amount of money that agencies request, they can veto excessive spending bills, and they can make sure bureaucracies don’t waste money that legislatures have appropriated.

To successfully defend taxpayers, governors must be skeptical of claims made by bureaucrats and the special interest groups that benefit from excessive spending, and they must be open to listen to citizen views of proposed spending programs. Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, who is now running for governor of Colorado, has failed to meet these tests.

In September, 2004, during the campaign to spend billions of dollars on Denver-area rail transit, Hickenlooper endorsed the new tax for more trains, saying that Fastracks would “take at least 250,000 cars off the road — thereby relieving congestion.” This was a complete fabrication.

As FasTracks opponents pointed out at least a month before Hickenlooper’s statement, 250,000 is the approximate number of weekday trips expected to take place on all rail lines after FasTracks was built, including the existing lines built before FasTracks. The FasTracks lines themselves would carry only about 150,000 trips per weekday. Moreover, roughly half of those trips would be on transit even if FasTracks isn’t built. FasTracks would get, at most, about 72,000 daily trips out of cars — and that’s only if none of these people carpools. (For comparison, the region expects to have more than 10 million auto trips per weekday when FasTracks is done.)

Hickenlooper didn’t say “trips,” he said “cars.” Most cars take at least two trips a day, many take more. If the average is two a day, then FasTracks will take only 36,000 cars off the road each day. Moreover, only about half of those would be rush-hour trips, suggesting that the other half won’t be taking place during congested periods of the day anyway. (All of these numbers are taken straight from a review of FasTracks published by the Denver Regional Council of Governments.)

Even during the entire day, FasTracks would “take,” at most, 36,000 cars off the road. There is a big difference between 36,000 and 250,000.

So here is a question Colorado voters should ask gubernatorial candidate John Hickenlooper: Based on what we know today, including 40 percent cost overruns, revenue shortfalls, and the trivial amount of congestion relief that FasTracks is expected to provide, would you still have endorsed the 2004 FasTracks ballot measure? If so, then what are you going to do to make sure you are not again hoodwinked by bureaucrats who want to spend more tax dollars on future megaprojects? And if not, then who will you really represent: the voters, or the bureaucracies and special interest groups that want to take as much money as possible from those voters?


15 thoughts on “A Question for John Hickenlooper

  1. bennett

    One of the biggest mistakes rail advocates make, is stating the reduction in congestion argument. Transit can be a great way for individuals to avoid dealing with congestion behind the wheel, but much like highway expansion, it doesn’t reduce congestion in any noticeable way.

    Is there a silver bullet for congestion?

    I would love to know the Mayor’s answer to O’Toole’s question.

  2. Dan

    The question and preface are misleading on several levels, which is why we need a re-state. Nonetheless, almost all pols at this level use the numbers their staff give them so any campaign speech he’ll give will be with the new numbers that his staff gives him.

    If I get a re-write and I get a chance in the next couple weeks I’ll see if I can corner him and ask, else it may have to be in the near future.


  3. Scott

    Those ridership numbers on 9 lines [from link in the opening] don’t even come close to what 2 lanes of a freeway can conveniently handle, for just normal patterns.

    That’s not to say that there should be no public transit, but the cost-benefit analysis should take that into account. More freeway-lanes can help buses.

  4. ws

    bennett:“Is there a silver bullet for congestion?”

    ws: Nope, and I’ll freely admit that transit won’t solve congestion. On the same token, the interstate system was sold as a congestion panacea, too. Cancer will be cured before congestion is cured.

  5. Andy

    Dan made a good comment, that politicians usually rely on staff for such facts and figures.

    To expand on that, the staff usually takes facts and figures from interest groups that support them. If there are mistakes, and that is not uncommon, it can be that the interest group greatly slanted the facts (they rarely outright lie, but often spin heavily). More likely is that like the “telephone” game, the spin gets recast as a fact and the politician ends up looking uninformed.

  6. prk166

    As mayor of Denver it would’ve had to have been a cold day in hell for Hickenlooper to not have bent over backwards for a slew of reasons to endorse Fastracks. Denver, especially downtown Denver, stood to gain from the project far more than any other city or county in the metro.

    I would assume now that he’s running for governor he’ll be much more likely to find a way of distancing himself from the program while still endorsing the thinking that lead to the mess.

  7. Tad Winiecki

    You don’t need a silver bullet to reduce congestion; you can do it with concrete, steel, copper, aluminum, glass, rubber and plastic.
    The positive way to reduce congestion is to build up the transport network as fast you build up the buildings and use grade separation, off-line stops, and automated small vehicles (personal automated transport).
    The negative way to reduce congestion is reduced population or reduced economic activity (recession).

  8. bennett

    “The positive way to reduce congestion is to build up the transport network as fast you build up the buildings and use grade separation, off-line stops, and automated small vehicles (personal automated transport).”

    Good luck with that. How would you finance such a system? Would you burden private developers to implement this network when they build properties, or would you suggest that the government do it? Either way, how you gonna pay for it?

  9. CoAvsFan12

    I think John Hickenlooper would be dangerous for our transportation needs throughout the state. This is the problem: he would be focused too much on the needs of Denver and not the needs of the state. Problem with your questions are he wont answer them. he gives no specifics on what he will do.

  10. Dan

    Despite being a Wings fan, I have to agree Avs fan has a point about Hick’s speech pattern, but there is zero evidence Hick will be focused too much on Denver.


  11. Tad Winiecki

    Bennett asked, “How would you finance such a system?”
    Answer: The same way we finance and pay for communications and energy utility networks. Equity and debt financing, customers who use the service pay for it. The system expands from profits when it reaches a sufficient number of nodes to be profitable. Governments are involved to grant utility franchises and easements and to regulate safety, rates, environmental compliance, etc. Some governments would be users of the network and may pay for their own stops, just as governments have paid for seaport, airport, and train station infrastructures.

  12. prk166

    To add to Dan’s comment, Denver metro is going to get a lot of attention. Over 1/2 the state’s population lives there. @1 in 9 Coloradans live within the limits of Denver itself so there will be a lot of attention on the county/city itself. But I don’t believe there would be anything disproportional to that if he were governor.

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