Vail Daily column: A break in the gridlock
Almost every day we travel on our roads and bridges, hop on our transit system to go to and from work and rely on our railways to transport goods across the country. The quality of our infrastructure and the ability to move people and products directly affects our economy. And a deteriorating infrastructure puts our safety and the safety of our families at risk.
Despite these facts, we have not had the decency to maintain the infrastructure that our grandparents built for us. In 2010, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave Colorado a C-plus for infrastructure, with our roads and bridges receiving a D and C-minus, respectively. Any Coloradan heading to Fort Collins from Denver on a Friday afternoon or idling in traffic on Interstate 70 on a Sunday evening can readily attest to these deficiencies.
Fortunately, after years of kicking the can down the road, Congress has finally managed to pass a long-term highway bill, known as the FAST Act. After dozens of frustrating short-term extensions the president signed into law a bill that gives Colorado and local communities the resources and certainty to rebuild and repair roads and bridges, invest in transit systems, and streamline railway projects.
In total, Colorado is expected to receive $3.4 billion in funding during the next five years to invest in transportation projects. The five-year bill increases highway funding in Colorado by more than $75 million in total, allowing CDOT to complete ongoing transportation projects and begin work on pressing new projects to meet the demands of our growing economy.
Colorado will use the funds to complete critical projects across the state, such as improving U.S. Highway 85 from Douglas County to Highlands Ranch, updating U.S. Highway 50 in Pueblo and U.S. Highway 24 West between Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs, making safety improvement on U.S. Highway 491 in Cortez and creating passing lanes in southwestern Colorado near Telluride.
This funding will also aid in the completion of large, long-term projects that have been a major focus for many local communities. They include expanding Interstate 25 north from Denver to Fort Collins and improving the I-70 corridor between Denver and Salt Lake City, which the bill designates as a “corridor of high priority.” This designation makes the highway eligible for certain federal funding streams to help with maintenance and improvements.
The bill also provides greater access and flexibility to local communities by expanding the types of projects eligible for funding from the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act Program and by converting the Surface Transportation Program into a block grant.
It’s not just our roads and bridges that will be eligible for a face lift. The bill increases investment in mass transit by 18 percent during the next five years and reinstates the competitive grant program for bus and bus facility needs. It also requires a study on the use of train horns, provides funding to improve the safety of railway crossings and creates a new formula for the National Freight Program that will provide the state with $85 million for improvements to freight corridors.
This bill is an important step forward. But years of neglect in Congress have taken a toll, and in Colorado alone there is still a $14 billion shortfall of work left to be done. And although the FAST Act will help meet our transportation needs for the next five years, it does not address the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund the source of our transportation resources.
While China is spending 9 percent of its GDP on infrastructure, we spend less than 2 percent. Congress still needs to find a realistic solution that will allow us to fully fund the infrastructure we need to compete in the 21st century economy. But maybe now that we have seen some break in the congestion, we can make some progress on the road ahead.
Michael Bennet is the senior U.S. senator from Colorado.