Transportation crisis threatens Colorado’s economy and quality of life

Apr 25, 2017 | Uncategorized

Colorado is facing a transportation crisis that threatens both our quality of life and our economy. A bipartisan bill that showed early promise in solving our state’s transportation woes — House Bill 1242 — is now in a tailspin.

As leaders representing businesses and communities along the crowded northern and southern Interstate 25 corridors, our message to lawmakers is this: The impasse we are at today should not signal the end, but rather the continuation of robust discussions on how to adequately fund Colorado’s roads.

With less than three weeks until the 2017 General Assembly adjourns, lawmakers must act now. We strongly urge our elected leaders, including our governor, to reach an agreement that will relieve our state of its transportation crisis.

To be successful, any transportation-funding proposal must pass two critical tests: first, secure bipartisan support of a divided state legislature; and second, secure the majority vote of the people of Colorado.

From the beginning, HB 1242 faced challenges in meeting these two tests.

To pass the first test, a proposal must find the compromise that respects the policy requirements and philosophical differences between the parties. This first test will be the hardest. With a commitment to Colorado and to finding a solution by both parties, we have faith that our leaders can find the necessary balance that meaningfully addresses this challenge.

If a transportation funding proposal comes out of the legislature, there is a second test to pass. Any proposal must win in the court of public opinion as far as voter appeal goes.

Polling indicates that voters are frustrated and are more receptive to supporting a statewide tax increase and will support borrowing money via bonding. As often demonstrated at the local level, voters will support reasonable taxes for transportation if convinced of the need and know what they will get in return. Voter education will be needed.

Voters expect a proposal that will fix our state’s transportation problems. A flaw within HB 1242 was its prioritization of everything but the statewide highway system. An alternative should ensure the state system gets the largest share of revenue: think Interstate 70 through the mountains, I-25 north and south of Denver, U.S. 50 in Pueblo, U.S. 550 and U.S. 160 in southwestern Colorado, Colorado 119 through Boulder County, and Colorado 71 south of Limon. These projects and others across the state are integral to Colorado’s economic health and vitality.

Transportation congestion not only impacts quality of life, it’s a major economic development factor. The companies we’re looking to attract to our state, and the companies we work to retain, consider many employment and business-climate factors as they make their location decisions. Chief among them is highway accessibility.

One advanced metal manufacturer based in Colorado Springs can no longer make Front Range deliveries in a single day. Rather, they now time deliveries to avoid gridlock on I-25. Their labor costs have increased because their drivers are spending more time sitting in traffic and less time delivering products. Anyone who spends time on I-25 can empathize.

On North I-25, an example of lost productivity is a distribution firm that routinely pulls its drivers in early on most days to control overtime costs due to traffic delays. It’s a common story due to the unpredictability of travel times. And then there is the mountain corridor of I-70 where travel issues are legendary.

All of us share frustrating traffic stories. Now is not the time to give up. It is the time to find common ground under the Capitol dome and with voters. Let’s pass the test. Let’s solve our transportation dilemma. What legislators do this legislative session, or don’t do, will impact Coloradans for a generation.

David May is president and CEO of the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce. Dirk Draper is the president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Chamber & Economic Development Corporation.

Originally published in the Denver Post on April 21, 2017