A little shy of a year after being elected governor, Jared Polis offered the first glimpse of a transportation plan Monday.
He did not release a plan with solutions to address the next decade. Instead, the Colorado Department of Transportation provided a report on the comments from a statewide listening tour that started in May and visited all 64 counties. The transportation plan itself is still in the works.
Millions, if not billions, of dollars in future transportation spending and the direction on climate change hang in the balance.
The findings in the 59-page midpoint report aren't exactly earth-shattering. A sampling includes: Custer County needs studies on traffic speed in its towns, both of them; folks on the Eastern Plains want rest areas reopened; some in the Grand Valley would like to do something to reduce accidents involving vehicles and wildlife; and in Denver there's a priority on bicycle and pedestrian needs, according to the report.
Colorado Springs residents told CDOT they're concerned about safety due to growth, citing concerns along Colorado 90 near Schriever Air Force Base and flood-prone areas along 24 through the Ute Pass area. They also talked about access to Denver and Pueblo.
"Commuter rail could be a solution but would need to integrate well with the first and last mile travel and consider financial viability," the report states, characterizing input from the Pikes Peak region.
A copy of the full report can be found by clicking here.
State transportation director Shoshana Lew told Colorado Politics in June she expected to roll out the plan this winter. The report released Monday said a draft would be ready in early 2020.
“There remains a lot of work ahead to fix Colorado’s roads," said Sandra Hagen Solin of Fix Colorado Roads, the statewide civic and business group that has lobbied the legislature to address the state's backlog of repairs and expansions to accommodate growth. "CDOT’s effort to provide a singular roadmap that identifies and updates the critical highway corridor projects and challenges across the state in a 10-year priority project pipeline will help us tell the story to elected leaders and voters about modernizing and equitably funding our critical network. We are eager to see the final report.”
The governor and his supporters are looking for greener alternatives, with transit leading the way.
In a letter that leads the report, Lew gave little hint on where the plan might be headed, but the state transportation official brought in from Rhode Island extolled the uniqueness of Colorado communities and their transportation needs.
"From residents along the Front Range, it is no surprise that we heard a lot about the pressures that come with rapid growth." she wrote. Not just the traffic, but the broader uncertainty that accompanies population density and a built environment that is changing rapidly — a sense that small towns can become big cities seemingly overnight. Keeping up with the associated transportation demands requires dollar figures that can seem daunting, and a vision for how to efficiently and sustainably connect people and economies in ways that preserve the quality of place and reduce road congestion and air pollution.
"Currently, the transportation sector — everything from cars to freight to airplanes — is on track to become the leading source of emissions in our state, as it already is nationwide."
The governor has show a keen interest in Front Range commuter rail, a proposition that could cost hundreds of billions of dollars with no obvious source of paying for it, beyond borrowing against future ticket sales.
The governor's office so far has seemed reluctant to push the state House and Senate — both controlled by fellow Democrats — to look for more sources of funding to address $9 billion to fix the state's aging roads and bridges and accommodate the demands of growth for the next
Polis said in an interview this year he thinks work can at least begin on a Front Range rail line by the end of his first term in 2022.
“We will look forward to working with the legislature next session and others to make it happen, if we can find a feasible route to get it done,” Polis told Colorado Politics in an interview this summer.
This spring the legislature put a total of about $665 million more into CDOT's budget. Most of it was one-time money, and strings were attached. at least $50 million was designated for transit and a minimum of $153 million was earmarked for rural areas.
The transportation listening tour has drawn criticism from Republicans and road-and-bridge advocates who alleged the governor was seeking input only from supporters of his green agenda to justify the spending on those priorities.
The midpoint report released Monday talks about the lengths CDOT went to to gather a broad range of views.
"We doubled down on our outreach and sought input from residents from every corner of the state," the highway department says in the report. "We attended community festivals, set up tables at grocery stores, and joined Coloradans at county fairs across the state. We also hosted telephone town hall conversations, reached out on social media, and spent hundreds of hours meeting with elected officials and transportation experts across the state."