Ask anyone who drove past the Colorado border this summer — north, south, east or west — and they will tell of the embarrassing contrast in road conditions. Colorado highways, even the interstates, are cratered with bad concrete and missing chunks of asphalt.

Drive into Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Utah or New Mexico and road conditions improve considerably. Imagine what travelers must think when they visit our state.

We don’t need studies to prove the obvious, but it never hurts.

The Reason Foundation, a libertarian research organization in Washington, D.C., released a report this week that ranks Colorado’s highway performance and cost-effectiveness 36th worst in the nation. That means only 14 states have worse roads than Colorado. For rural residents, it gets even worse. The study found only three states rank worse than Colorado for the condition of rural interstate highway pavement.

This, despite Colorado having the best economy of all 50 states as calculated by U.S. News & World Report, the uncontested leader in rankings. This, despite Colorado’s record-breaking surplus of hundreds of millions in unanticipated revenues generated by a booming economy. This, despite a state budget that has more than tripled in size in just 20 years.

As Colorado’s revenues have grown by leaps and bounds for decades, transportation spending has remained nearly flat. We can give away health care to able-bodied adults, but we cannot keep our roads safe for people to get to and from schools and their jobs.

There’s a reason for this. State politicians hate the Colorado Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. It keeps the government somewhat constrained by the realities of inflation and population growth. It requires voter approval for new debt or changes to tax policy.

The worst-kept secret in state government is the whispered belief that only potholes, traffic jams and scary bridges will motivate voters to raise their taxes. As such, our roads get neglected.

Add to that the Colorado Department of Transportation’s apparent objection to transportation work, and we have some of the country’s most disgraceful transportation infrastructure.

CDOT, which should advocate for good roads and transportation spending, claimed poverty a few years back — just as it spent nearly $200 million on new offices for transportation employees.

A recent state audit raised “CONCERN” — auditor’s emphasis, not ours — about CDOT’s sloppy budgeting practices and lack of transparency.

Included in the “CONCERN” was the transportation department’s lack of “processes to detect and deter employee fraud through data analysis…”

The bad report card included a laundry list of other unsatisfactory practices that might have something to do with Colorado’s third-world highways, bridges and roads.

It’s only a matter of time before state politicians turn this on the public. They will tell us, as they so reliably do, to throw money at the problems identified in reports by the auditor and the Reason Foundation. It’s like a failing employee claiming a raise would improve his performance. Don’t fall for the song and dance. Don’t reward poor performance but keep demanding better roads.

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