Moving beyond conventional transportation solutions

One of the most magical parts of living in Colorado is the vast diversity in the great outdoors we have across this gorgeous state just a short drive away. We have everything from wide open plains in the east, sand dunes in the south, snow covered mountains and red rock canyons in the west, and roaring rivers that run through it all. Unfortunately, it is becoming progressively more difficult for folks to travel around the state. Our highways are increasingly clogged or in need of repair, transit options are often limited or nonexistent, and while electric vehicle charging stations are becoming more common it can still be difficult to travel to some parts of the state.

As a Coloradan, I care a lot about being able to travel and support our recreational and tourist economy. And as a Broomfield city councilor, I also care about making sure our own local transportation system is accessible, affordable, and non-polluting. My constituents travel to work, school, and play. Our businesses depend on trains and trucks being able to move goods. And especially for those families and businesses that are struggling to survive after more than a year of pandemic challenges, access to reliable and affordable transportation is even more essential.

The major two sources of transportation funding in our state are the gas tax and registration fees, and collectively they fall far short of what need to maintain our current transportation system, much less improve or expand it. Although you pay some gas tax every time you fill up your car, the amount paid to the state has not changed since 1991. It has not even been adjusted for inflation and we all know that money doesn’t go nearly as far today as it did 30 years ago.

On top of that we have seen Colorado's population increase by more than 1.5 million people in the last 20 years. It is estimated that our state is going to continue to grow by on average anywhere from 70,000 to 80,000 people each year. With this population growth our traffic as well as the wear and tear on our roads is only going to increase.

If we want Colorado to have a modern transportation system that makes it easy for people to get where they want to go efficiently, inexpensively, and without contributing to climate change, we need smart, thoughtful transportation solutions and we need a reliable and sustained source of funding. And for that, we need Colorado's Legislature to step up and make it happen.

Fortunately, the Legislature has been crafting a transportation funding package that can address our aging infrastructure and bring us into the 21st century. A strong package would use a variety of tools instead of depending on just one or two variable sources. It would ensure that these dollars are spent around the state on smart transportation projects like installing electric charging stations, strengthening transit systems, and improving safety for pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles. It would prioritize mobility and clean energy, so that it is easier for people and goods to move around the state and to do so without unnecessary pollution. And it would make sure that everyone in the state, especially those with the worst access to the current transportation system, benefit.

One concern that I share with many other elected officials around the state is that this funding package will overemphasize old-school approaches to transportation, which would mean we end up spending too much money for too little benefit and end up with large amounts of excessive pollution to deal with, as well. Simply adding highway lanes might briefly reduce congestion until drivers simply fill in the space and leave it just as clogged as it was before. Continuing business as usual will mean disproportionately impacted communities get left further behind. Emphasizing electric vehicles without also in equal or greater measure working to reduce vehicle miles traveled will still mean too much congestion, too much pollution, and too difficult to get from here to there.

This legislative package, which a bipartisan group of state senators and representatives just introduced, isn't a moment too soon. No doubt it will face a tough legislative fight, and on behalf of my constituents and my community, I am grateful to these legislators who are working so hard to get this done.

The bill they just introduced will accomplish much of what we need, and I encourage and implore them to strengthen the package so that it will actually solve our challenges, avoid contributing to climate change or more toxic air pollution, and provide Colorado with a genuine 21st century transportation system.

The future of Colorado depends on having an effective and accessible transportation system. This year we have a chance to finally get it right and pass a comprehensive transportation package to help move our state forward.

Deven Shaff serves on the Broomfield City Council.

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