Is our state’s future stuck in a major traffic jam?
The Vail Valley economy — dependent upon tourism, and dependent upon the Interstate 70 corridor — relies on the state’s infrastructure system and needs a highway system that is highly functioning. The state highway system must enable the seamless and safe movement of commerce and people.
Today, Colorado is at an impasse until and unless our state lawmakers act. We must find a solution that will replace gridlock, bottlenecks and road rage with a modern transportation system.
Today, Colorado devotes no general fund dollars toward maintaining and improving our state’s roads, bridges, tunnels, highways and overall transportation system. This is one major reason why our transportation system simply cannot keep pace with our state’s population boom.
Funding has suffered
However, this was not always the case. Until 2009, a small percentage of the state’s general fund was dedicated to transportation. Then, the recession hit (in addition to numerous other factors) and transportation funding suffered as priorities in the state budget shifted over the years. Not convinced? Take a quick drive along our valley’s stretch of U.S. Highway 6, dodging potholes along the way, and it quickly becomes clear Colorado has fallen behind in addressing our state’s transportation challenges (substitute Highway 6 for Colfax Avenue in Denver or any number of other state roadways). Today, Coloradans (voters) are the ones who feel the safety and economic repercussions. We cannot diminish the reality that we need to make investments now.
States such as Utah and Texas (two of our strongest economic competitors) are speeding past Colorado. This is in large part due to our outdated transportation system; unlike Colorado, these states have consistently funded transportation via their respective states’ general funds. Colorado, as noted earlier, devotes zero dollars from its general fund to transportation. It’s time for Colorado to invest in transportation in order to reinvest in our economy.
Now is the time for our state’s lawmakers to act after (too) many years of inaction (from 2009 to 2016 — with no progress made toward a permanent, reliable, funding stream for transportation). Transportation needs to be addressed, and not just to benefit tourism and commerce.
Increase public safety
Consider public safety. Almost half of Colorado bridges need preventative maintenance (and 5 percent are structurally deficient). Statistics for our state’s highway system are even more grim, with most highways needing significant rehabilitation or reconstruction within the next 10 years. In addition, everyday annoyances like potholes cost drivers as much as $300 per year in vehicle repairs. Colorado must do better; we cannot risk the lives and safety or our citizens due to outdated, inferior roads. It’s time for Colorado to reinvest in transportation.
By 2040, our state’s population is expected to balloon to 7.8 million from today’s population of just over 5 million. The numbers speak for themselves: Colorado is a growth state and has a long-term growth trajectory. Based on this growth forecast, by 2040 going from point A to point B will increase by two to three hours. And as the old saying goes, time is money. Congestion accounts for $1.35 billion in costs to Colorado drivers in delays and fuel. Additional transportation funding is necessary to ensure Colorado remains a place where people want to live, work, and play.
Long commute times, gridlock and congestion impact our state’s ability to attract employers and a strong workforce. Colorado must modernize its roads. We must put people to work and make it easier for people to get to work. An efficient transportation system will reduce congestion among our busiest areas, primarily north and south Interstate 25 and along the mountain I-70 corridor, where the majority of our state’s commerce takes place.
Vail Valley Partnership remains committed to a statewide solution to transportation and is working with a statewide coalition — Fix Colorado Roads — to work with statewide policymakers as well as business leaders and elected officials to find a moderate, modern solution to fix our roads. We believe that transportation is a crisis that can no longer be ignored.
We believe a real solution likely needs to be built from both sides of the funding equation. In other words, there must be both reprioritization of the general fund and the creation of a new revenue stream. The latter option may be possible through new taxes, in order to bridge our state’s $9 billion transportation funding gap. If this were to occur, voters would have the ultimate say as a referred measure would be placed on the November ballot. In order to further leverage dollars and accelerate when projects could commence, state lawmakers may also consider various bonding mechanisms.
Chris Romer is president and CEO of Vail Valley Partnership. Learn more at http://www.VailValleyPartnership.com.