Shift Colorado’s transportation priorities away from asphalt and toward public transit
Transformational. Historical. Once per generation. This is how the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has been mentored by leaders across the country, including here in Colorado.
Now that funding is starting to disperse in Colorado, if we are not intentional and proactive, this funding could maintain the status quo, or worse, increase serious negative impacts our current transportation system has on public health, access to economic opportunity, and the environment.
The Colorado Department of Transportation is set to receive federal funding and plug it into existing avenues, like CDOT Ten-Year Planwhich reads like a menu of transport proposals where freeway projects are the entrances and improvements to public transport, cycling and walking are secondary orders.
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Doubling down on highway projects will only make life worse for Coloradans, especially for poor communities and communities of color who are hardest hit by air pollution, onerous household transportation costs, and l increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
For too long, we’ve widened Colorado’s highways on the mistaken assumption that âone more lane will solve the problemâ. The results? More driving, more deaths on our roads and more toxic air pollution.
The benefits of the historic investment in public transit under the new federal infrastructure law will be eclipsed by the negative impacts of widening freeways unless we choose a different path – a path that not only will reduce the negative impacts of our current transportation system, but will also improve the quality of life and repair Colorados communities that have long borne the heavy burden of these environmental hazards.
We applaud CDOT’s recently adopted Greenhouse Gas Pollution Standard Rule and hope it will make it easier for government agencies to make decisions that represent a fundamental change in our transportation system to meet the needs of the time and to the needs of the future – equity, climate and security.
We have some ideas on how Colorado can do this.
First, Colorado should ensure that every dollar that can be used for transit projects is allocated to it. Programs like the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program, Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality, Highway Safety Improvement Program can fund transit projects, and in limited circumstances even the National Highway Performance Program can be used for transit.
If we are to meet the transportation needs of a growing state, increase access to opportunity for low-income Coloradans, reduce road deaths, and achieve our goals commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we need to use as many funds as possible for public transit. Funding for new highways takes us in the wrong direction and prevents us from meeting those needs and improving the lives of Coloradoans.
Next, even though not mandated by infrastructure law, Colorado should commit to a repair-first approach with any funding spent on highways.
According to CDOT, more than 100 of Colorado’s bridges are in poor condition. We must first ensure that our existing infrastructures are safe for people, whatever their transportation choice. To spend money on new infrastructure while bridges remain in questionable condition â while walking and biking along CDOT’s main streets in unsafe conditions â would be irresponsible, if not negligent.
Finally, Governor Polis, CDOT, and heads of state should explore opportunities to make the most of the momentum of this injection of federal funding. For this to be truly transformational for transportation in Colorado, leaders should consider opportunities at the state level, such as providing consistent operating funding for transit agencies and dedicated funding for communities. indigenous peoples to help them acquire expertise related to transportation and land use so that they can benefit from it. of these new investments. If indigenous communities are to have a chance to meaningfully contribute to any kind of dialogue with government officials, they must first be relieved of the all-consuming worries of poverty.
The federal infrastructure package includes historic amounts of funding, but it’s where it’s spent that will determine whether it’s truly a once-in-a-generation opportunity or just the same thing. We call on Governor Polis and CDOT to think beyond the status quo with this funding. We have to get it right in Colorado. Our future depends on it.
Molly McKinley, of Denver, is the Policy Director of the Denver Streets Partnership. Katara Burrola, of Denver, is an environmental justice organizer for Mi Familia Vota. Laura Hickernell, from Niwot, is the organizing manager for Mothers Out Front in Colorado.
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