Sisk has busy first day on RTD board

BOULDER – Former Louisville mayor Chuck Sisk got an express ticket – right to a place that’s been near and dear to his heart.

Boulder County commissioners appointed Sisk on Tuesday morning to fill a vacant seat on the Regional Transportation District’s 15-member elected board of directors. Hours later, Sisk was in the basement conference room at RTD headquarters in lower downtown Denver, where the board swore him in and then gave initial approval to the selection of a consultant that will assess the northwest metropolitan area’s rapid-transit options – a topic with which Sisk has been intensely involved for a decade.

“The county commission approved me shortly before noon,” Sisk said, “and by 5 I was down in Denver at the board meeting.”

Sisk, a law partner at Hurth, Sisk & Blakemore LLP in Boulder since 1973 and a 2012 inductee into the Boulder County Business Hall of Fame, was picked to represent RTD District O, which includes Boulder and Louisville as well as Superior, Lyons, Hygiene, the Diagonal Highway corridor and parts of Longmont southwest of Mountain View Avenue and Hover Street.

Fifteen people applied for the interim post, and the commission narrowed the list to three: Sisk, former Boulder mayor Susan Osborne and former Boulder deputy mayor Spense Havlick.

Sisk replaces John Tayer, who was elected to a four-year term on the RTD board in November 2010 but resigned last month to devote more time to the job of Boulder Chamber president and chief executive that he won in November. Sisk can serve at least through the November 2014 election.

At Tuesday night’s meeting in Denver, Sisk voted to support a staff recommendation of Kansas City, Missouri-based HNTB Corp. – a consulting firm with an office in downtown Denver – to do a quick-turnaround Northwest Mobility Study, reassessing financial conditions that changed drastically since district voters approved the FasTracks plan in 2004. Pauletta Tonilas, RTD’s FasTracks public information specialist, said final approval of HNTB is likely at a Feb. 19 meeting, after which the firm will have until next spring to present its report – at a cost not to exceed roughly $2 million.

Sisk is confident HNTB is up to the task. Its portfolio includes massive public-works projects such as the tunnel being built to replace the crumbling Alaskan Way Viaduct on downtown Seattle’s waterfront.

“Thirteen months is very ambitions,” Sisk said. “But we’re holding their feet to the fire to come up with a workable plan. It comes with a cost. The longer we take, the longer we don’t have a project.

“Some of the communities have already purchased properties for transit-oriented development,” he said. “That’s part of why the mobility study is so vital,” he said. “We need to have the currency of information that we can take to voters if necessary. We need to find a way to finish this up.”

Sisk said RTD general manager Phillip Washington spoke forcefully at Tuesday night’s meeting. “He said, ‘I fully intend to have this finished by 2020.’ He’s ex-military, and it showed,” Sisk said.

As Louisville mayor from 2004 to 2011, Sisk worked with a coalition of officials and other stakeholders along the U.S. Highway 36 corridor between Boulder and Denver to develop rapid-transit options for commuters, building a reputation as a consensus builder. He said he’ll have that same role on the RTD board. The coalition made numerous trips to Washington and returned with $10 million in seed money, which “we used for leverage” to push the FasTracks plan forward, Sisk said.

The original FasTracks plan included commuter rail from Denver to the east side of Boulder and then to Longmont, but decreased tax revenue during a recession and higher-than-expected costs for use of Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad right-of-way threw a wrench into the blueprint. A recent proposed alternative carries rail to Longmont via an extension of the north rail line, which is to extend from downtown Denver along Interstate 25 to near Colorado Highway 7. Sisk said he would have no problem approving such an option even if it would mean bypassing his District O constituents.

“I’m a regionalist,” Sisk said, even as mayor of Louisville. “We had $305 million in additional money remaining from the West Line” between downtown Denver and Golden, which will begin operations late this spring, and “I recommended that $17 million of that should go to Longmont.” For the U.S. 36 corridor, he has pushed for completion of a Bus Rapid Transit system – at least in the interim.

“I see my role as being a facilitator, being involved and being a good listener,” Sisk said. “Our board has 15 directors and we all need to work together.”