Cal Marsella, Father of Fastracks, Died March 19, 2016
March 21, 2016 | Tags:
Cal Marsella is the reason Colorado and RTD became a part of the SWTA Nation. We mourn this loss of this transit giant and pray God’s peace for his family and friends. Cal Marsella, who led the Regional Transportation District into the FasTracks era, died unexpectedly Saturday evening. He was 65.
RTD board member Chuck Sisk said Monday the former general manager died while in Connecticut as he was on his way to the airport.
Marsella, a Louisville resident, was a tireless advocate of the FasTracks mass-transit project, which was approved by Colorado voters in 2004.
“He was the real father of FasTracks,” said Sisk, adding Marsella’s reputation was tied to FasTracks and both drew national acclaim. “I don’t think people in Colorado truly appreciated the national respect Cal had for what he did here.”
The RTD board was told of Marsella’s death Monday morning in an e-mail from agency spokesman Scott Reed. The cause of death is pending.
“Cal Marsella was a visionary and a friend. Without him there would have been no FasTracks,” Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said Monday. “He was one of the first people to walk me through what a transition from business into public service might look like, and to invest the time so that we wouldn’t mess it up. We will all miss him.”
Marsella joined RTD in August 1995 and left the agency in July 2009 after serving as general manager during a rapid expansion of transportation options in the Denver-area.
“Cal’s leadership with the FasTracks Program helped Denver construct and implement one of the nation’s top transit systems,” Mayor Michael Hancock said in a statement posted Monday afternoon to his Facebook page. “He truly was the Godfather of RTD, and as we get ready to open the four new lines this year, we will be celebrating his life and legacy.”
Susan Barnes-Gelt joined the Denver City Council in 1995, about the time Marsella was starting at RTD. She recalled Marsella introducing himself to a council committee by saying, “I look forward to coming to your Land Use and Transportation meetings. I may be late because I’m taking the bus.”
“Which is so endearing,” Barnes-Gelt said. “He was, I think, a terrific guy who was saddled with a difficult task and, frankly, a very fractured (RTD) board — which continues to this day.”
She recalled the failure in 1997 of RTD’s initial ballot measure to raise taxes for new mass-transit lines.
“Then they went again (in 2004), and it passed. And that takes a lot of stamina and tenacity. So I held (Marsella) in high esteem largely for his incredibly even temperament — which, in the face of a difficult culture, I think was remarkable.”
Marsella had his critics, who attacked him and the board for his lavish salary and the expanded cost of FasTracks. “I think when you are in a position like Cal’s, there will be people who will disagree with you,” Sisk said.
RTD Chief Financial Officer Terry Howerter said in February 2010 that the agency paid Marsella his entire $2.9 million in accrued pension benefit, wiring $1.6 million of the total from the salaried employees’ pension plan, and the remaining $1.3 million from a special government-mandated Excess Benefit Plan that had been set up specifically to account for Marsella’s excess pension accrual.
Lawmakers on the Colorado General Assembly’s Legislative Audit Committee ripped into RTD board members for giving Marsella a compensation package worth millions of dollars.
The committee in March 2010 asked Marsella to return $1.3 million to the transit agency from a lump-sum pension payout.
His response: “That’s not going to happen. I had a deal, a contract. People have to respect that.”
A state auditor made at least 13 recommendations for the RTD board to improve its executive compensation process, provide adequate oversight and promote transparency.
Marsella oversaw the addition of the Southeast and Southwest rail lines; the C line serving Auraria, then-Invesco Field and Pepsi Center; worked with the Colorado Department of Transportation to create high-occupancy toll lanes on Interstate 25.
Marsella left RTD to join MV Transportation Inc., a California company that provides private transit services to public entities. He later became a private consultant.
By: The Denver Post
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