Mudslide damage and repair efforts along Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon are seen on Sept. 2, 2021. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)
A leading voice on transportation issues in the Colorado Capitol is joining fellow state lawmakers from around the country to urge federal officials to implement last year’s $550 billion infrastructure package with an eye towards climate and equity concerns, firing back at Republican objections to a recent policy memo issued by President Joe Biden’s administration.
In a letter sent Tuesday to top Republicans in the U.S. Senate, state Sen. Faith Winter, a Democrat from Thornton and chair of the state Senate Transportation and Energy Committee, along with lawmakers from Florida, Maryland and Michigan, applauded the Dec. 16 guidance from the Federal Highway Administration, which seeks to ensure that projects funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act are “more equitable” and “more sustainable and resilient to a changing climate.”
Winter and her colleagues dismissed complaints made by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, the top-ranked Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, in a letter to governors earlier this month. While McConnell and Capito criticized the FHWA memo as “a wish list of policies not reflected in the IIJA” and urged states to ignore it, Winter and other Democratic state legislators wrote that the guidance is “fair and legal.”
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“As legislators who will execute the implementation of this new law at the state level, we can assure you that we will work diligently with the people we serve to ensure it succeeds in building stronger local economies, vibrant neighborhoods, and healthy communities,” reads the letter. “Our states are working to build a transportation system of the future that serves all of our people, which will be greatly aided by the broad latitude we have within implementing IIJA.”
In Colorado and nationwide, the transportation sector has surpassed electricity generation to become the largest source of climate-warming carbon emissions, spurring efforts to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles and boost alternative forms of transit. Advocates for environmental justice have also long drawn attention to the disproportionate impacts that fossil-fuel facilities and highway infrastructure have on low-income communities and communities of color, including the north Denver neighborhoods that have long been impacted by pollution from Interstate 70 and the Suncor oil refinery.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is scheduled to visit Colorado to discuss implementation of the infrastructure law on Thursday and Friday. Following state lawmakers’ passage last year of a $5.3 billion transportation funding bill of their own, officials at the Colorado Department of Transportation are finalizing a state-level policy that also aims to align infrastructure spending with climate and equity goals.
“Our vision is to use this infrastructure opportunity to help people connect to each other and to jobs” while reversing the “climate-damaging approaches of the past,” Winter said in a statement. “We’ve heard from our constituents what their priorities are and will continue to engage them in ensuring successful implementation of this law.”
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