Management & Operations

Marsella, former RTD Denver GM and FasTracks leader, dies

Posted on March 22, 2016

Cal Marsella. Courtesy RTD Denver
Cal Marsella. Courtesy RTD Denver

Clarence W. (Cal) Marsella, former GM/CEO of the Regional Transportation District and visionary who led the creation of the multi-billion dollar FasTracks rapid transit expansion program of projects for metro Denver, died unexpectedly Saturday while visiting friends and family in Connecticut.

"Cal leaves us with numerous legacies — the Denver Union Station redevelopment, FasTracks projects and other transit infrastructure that will benefit the entire Denver Metro area. I believe his greatest legacy is people — Cal touched the hearts and minds of many," said RTD Interim General Manager Dave Genova. " He was my mentor, advisor and good friend — he gave me opportunity and I am forever grateful. I will deeply miss him.”

Marsella was born on November 28, 1950 in Waterbury, Conn., the son of Clarence and Elizabeth (Serlise) Marsella. He grew up in Wolcott, Conn. and attended the University of Connecticut where he earned his Bachelor's and Master's degrees. Marsella served in the U.S. Army from July 1969 through July 1971, including a year in Vietnam. During his master's program at UConn, he earned a transportation internship which he turned into a position, working for the city of Hartford running the elderly transportation program.

Courtesy RTD Denver
Courtesy RTD Denver

In 1979 Marsella was recruited to Miami to run their contracted transit services. Following that, he had a small stint in the private sector. In 1995, Marsella was hired as the GM/CEO of the Denver Regional Transportation District, and he served in this capacity for 14 years, leaving the agency in 2009 to join a private sector transit firm.

Under Marsella’s leadership, RTD made numerous major accomplishments, including:

  • Securing RTD’s first federal Full Funding Grant Agreement for a light rail line with the $120 million FFGA for the Southwest Light Rail line that was signed by then-US Secretary of Transportation Federico Pena in 1996

  • Opening the Southwest Light Rail Line in 2000 on time and within budget

  • Securing in 2000 the $525 million federal Full Funding Grant Agreement for the Southeast Light Rail Line for the T-REX Project

  • Replacing the aging 16th Street Mall shuttle bus fleet beginning in 2000 with state-of-the-art hybrid electric low-floor buses built by a local firm

  • Purchasing Denver Union Station in 2001 in partnership with the City and County of Denver, the Denver Regional Council of Governments, and the Colorado Department of Transportation

  • Opening the C Line Light Rail Line in 2002 on time and within budget

  • RTD being named the Outstanding Public Transportation Agency in North America by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) in 2003 and again in 2008.

  • Developing over a seven-year period the FasTracks comprehensive transit system for the metro region that was overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2004 that will build 122 miles of new light rail and commuter rail, build 21,000 additional parking spaces at transit park-n-Rides, add 18 miles of bus rapid transit service, and build 57 new transit stations

  • Opening the Southeast Light Rail Line (T-REX Project) on time and within budget in 2006

  • Receiving in January, 2009 the $308.9 million federal Full Funding Grant Agreement for the West Corridor Light Rail Line

In addition to these agency accomplishments, Marsella was selected by APTA as the Outstanding Public Transportation Manager in 2006, by the University of Colorado Real Estate Council as their 2006 Person of the Year, and by the Colorado Association of State Transportation Agencies as the Transportation Professional of the Year in 2000.

RTD Chair Tom Tobiassen said, “Cal provided a vision for the metro area’s transit improvements that will serve current and future generations in beneficial ways that we can now only begin to realize. His ability to help unite the region behind the FasTracks program of transit projects was remarkable and unique. I had the pleasure of speaking with Cal just a couple weeks ago, and once again got to share in his ever-present and contagious optimism. Cal’s positive impacts to the metro region will be felt for decades to come.”

In honor of the years that he spent serving the community and the transit industry, Marsella's family requests that donations can be made in his honor to the American Public Transportation Foundation at 1300 I Street, N.W., Suite 1200 East, Washington DC, 20005 or online at

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