Secretary Wayne Williams: making inroads on transportation

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, third from left, at Gov. John Hickenlooper's State of the State address on the House floor Thursday. To Williams' left is Robin Pringle, the governor's fiancé and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. On his right is state Treasurer Walker Stapleton and Attorney General Cynthia Coffman. Williams stood and applauded when the governor said the state needs new money for transportation. (Photo by Evan Semón/Special to Secretary of State)
Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, third from left, at Gov. John Hickenlooper’s State of the State address on the House floor Thursday. To Williams’ left is Robin Pringle, the governor’s fiancé and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. On his right is state Treasurer Walker Stapleton and Attorney General Cynthia Coffman. Williams stood and applauded when the governor said the state needs new money for transportation. (Photo by Evan Semón/Special to Secretary of State)

By Lynn Bartels and Keara Brosnan

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams’ name is linked with elections but the Colorado Springs Republican’s expertise also includes transportation, which is obvious when he’s out and about.

At the Colorado Restaurant Association’s Blue Ribbon Reception Wednesday night, Williams reminisced with Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, a Steamboat Springs Democrat. They were county commissioners when they served together on the Colorado State Transportation Advisory Committee. The same happened at a recent breakfast meeting with county clerks when Williams ran into  Tim Harris, the former chief engineer for the Colorado Department of Transportation.

“A fun thing about being SOS,” Williams said, “is I get to drive on a lot of the roads that I helped to get funding for.”

His knowledge on transportation came in handy Thursday when Gov. John Hickenlooper addressed the issue during his State of the State speech.

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams at the Colorado Restaurant Association's reception on the opening day of the legislature Jan. 13. With him is Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, and her husband Terry Todd.
Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams at the Colorado Restaurant Association’s reception on the opening day of the legislature Jan. 13. With him is Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, and her husband Terry Todd.

During William’s two-term stint on the El Paso County commission, he chaired the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority and served on numerous other transportation panels. In 2004 he helped put a measure on the El Paso County ballot seeking voter approval for 1-cent sales tax increase for transportation.

“Folks wanted to be able to get from work to their kids’ soccer game on time,” he said. “Businesses were losing time stuck in traffic.”

The measure passed with 55 percent of the vote. Eight years later voters, when asked to extend the tax, 80 percent of the voters said yes.

“We delivered what we promised so the voters trusted us,” Williams said.

The governor addressed transportation needs during his sixth State of the State address.

“We have to look at some hard realities,” he said. “Travel on our highways has increased 42 percent in the last 20 years. But the capacity of our highway system has only grown 2 percent. Even an English major like me can do that math. It seems we’ve discovered the formula for congestion.”

The state must find new funding sources and leverage partnerships to pay for projects, Hickenlooper said.

“This is a challenge that will only get more daunting as each day passes,” he said. “Let’s find a way to permanently put new money toward roads so we can truly solve Colorado’s transportation problems.”

At that last sentence from the Democratic governor, the 6-foot-4 Williams got to his feet and clapped in front of rows of Republican lawmakers.

“I support the governor making transportation a priority and have confidence in people evaluating the solutions presented to them,” Williams said, when asked about his response.

State Rep. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, wasn’t surprised to see Williams’ standing. When Lee was first elected to the House in 2010 he called Williams, then a county commissioner who had just been elected clerk and recorder, and asked to meet.

“Transportation is a defining issue in Colorado Springs and the state and I knew Wayne was the resident expert,” Lee said. “Wayne was terrific. He has encyclopedic knowledge of transportation, and it’s not simple stuff, especially the funding formulas.”

Lee said he also got help from Williams in his first session, when the lawmaker carried a bill regarding overseas and military voting and sought help from the new county clerk.

“Wayne and I certainly have our differences but he doesn’t play that game of, ‘You’re a Democrat, I’m not going to help you,’ ” Lee said. “Wayne is interested in good governance of the entire state and I think he works to make that happen.”

Keara Brosnan is a University of Denver student interning with the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office.