Commentary

Let’s bring Colorado’s transportation system up to speed

New funding legislation will go a long way to help communities across the state

Southbound traffic on Interstate 25 in Denver is seen on Oct. 5, 2020. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)

By Andy Kerr, Keith Baker and Lance Waring

The Colorado Legislature just wrapped up a whirlwind session, navigating pandemic delays, prioritizing federal stimulus dollars, and tackling critical issues in the state. One of the most important bills passed was Senate Bill 21-260, the comprehensive statewide transportation funding package, which was signed into law on June 17.

As Colorado Newsline reported, Colorado is ranked one of the very lowest in the country, not only in the condition of our roads, but also in transportation funding. This new law will provide proactive, sustainable transportation solutions for years to come, financed through reliable and equitable sources.

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We are county commissioners representing diverse communities around Colorado, including the rural Arkansas Valley, the urban Front Range, and the remote Western Slope. One thing we have in common is a dire need for the state to take decisive action on transportation, bringing the state up to date by fixing long-neglected roads and bridges, expanding multimodal solutions like public transit, and ensuring that every region in the state reaps the benefits of growing electric vehicle use.

Chaffee County, for instance, is experiencing explosive growth in vehicle miles traveled.

Adjacent to the Front Range megaregion and home to some of Colorado’s key agricultural and recreational centers, our deteriorating roads and bridges are no match for the rising demand.

Skyrocketing tourism and second-home-ownership, along with motorists looking for alternative routes to public lands, only contribute to the traffic congestion. Additionally, county residents want, and in many cases require, multimodal transportation alternatives for daily living, medical appointments, and making the best use of their time.

Jefferson County, spanning large portions of metro Denver and the Front Range foothills, is one of the state’s most populous. But inadequate resources for transportation electrification contribute to far too many days with dangerous levels of ozone and other air pollution. It’s only mid-June and metro Denver is already experiencing record-setting heat and dangerous ozone levels. Earlier this week Denver earned the troubling distinction of having the eighth worst ozone pollution levels in the country (up from 10th last year). These new transportation dollars will make a world of difference.

Much of San Miguel County’s economy is based on tourism, which depends on effective transit to convey employees to and from work and visitors between lodging and local businesses. In 2016, voters approved the creation of the San Miguel Authority for Regional Transit, or SMART, to achieve these goals. SB-260 will provide additional funds for SMART to further its mission to provide multimodal public transportation options, thus reducing congestion, greenhouse gas emissions, and particulate matter in the regional airshed.

Beyond improving the state’s transit infrastructure and air quality, the bill also increases equity and quality of life for Colorado’s citizens. Our lower-income residents often depend on public transit to get to work, buy groceries and visit the doctor. Therefore, the better our transit systems, the higher our quality of life. If Colorado intends to follow through on its commitment to support communities where everyone who can work does work, where parents can give their children opportunities to succeed, and where we maximize the number of community members who have the time and ability to play an active role in civic and community life, a robust transit system is essential.

This new funding package will mean real opportunities for a wide range of transportation solutions. Communities all over the state will see better roads, repaired bridges, more consistent transit service, improved bicycle lanes and pedestrian sidewalks, and more investments in Colorado’s Main Streets program. Electric vehicles will be easier to buy and we will see new charging stations and funding for larger electric vehicles like school and transit buses. Importantly, the bill also requires that the Colorado Department of Transportation update its 10-year plan with greenhouse gas pollution in mind.

Five billion dollars might sound like a great deal of money for transportation funding, but in reality, it represents compromises. This funding package will not solve all the state’s road, bridge and mass transit problems, but it will go a long way to help communities across the state that are suffering from road repair backlog and a heavy load of toxic air pollution from transportation.

We applaud the General Assembly, the governor, and a vast array of stakeholders who worked together to address Colorado’s pressing transportation and carbon reduction needs with the passage and signing of SB-260.

Andy Kerr is a Jefferson County commissioner, Keith Baker is a Chaffee County commissioner and Lance Waring is a San Miguel County commissioner.

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