Gov. John Hickenlooper has a solution for Colorado residents who are "fed up" with gridlock on state highways.
Find the money.
Hickenlooper on Friday pointed to the need to widen a clogged stretch of Interstate 25 in a call to legislators to help him find money for highway expansion during a recap of his State-of-the-State Address to a Colorado Springs business group.
He asked lawmakers to back his plan to remove a fee charged to hospitals from the state budget and revenue limits under the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, which would allow the state to keep more than $200 million that could be spent on highway projects.
"We have to invest now in our transportation infrastructure or we will strangle our own success," Hickenlooper told about 450 business, nonprofit and government leaders at a luncheon at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort. "Now more than ever, we need to come together to find new funding sources and leverage partnerships to truly solve Colorado's transportation problems. And we are not going to get there without new revenue."
Hickenlooper said the state needs to widen several stretches of state highways, including a 20-mile section of I-25 between Monument and Castle Rock - which generated loud applause from the crowd - and pointed to a section of Interstate 15 in Utah as an example of how other states meet their transportation needs.
"Coloradans are fed up," Hickenlooper said. "They want transportation and education systems that work. They want their elected officials to work together to solve these challenges. I don't know of any other way (other removing the provider fee). Go to voters and bond against it and use it for transportation."
But the governor did more than simply push his agenda.
During the 45-minute speech, Hickenlooper promoted local job training programs, including a welding program at Pikes Peak Community College, and alliances between school districts and colleges that allow high school students to earn college credit before they get their diploma and without paying tuition.
He said more training programs are needed to help find better-paying jobs for middle-aged technology workers - including many from the Colorado Springs area - who lost jobs in recent years and settled for jobs that pay a fraction of their previous salary.
Hickenlooper also praised Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers and University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak for their efforts to bring the National Cyber Intelligence Center to Colorado Springs. He said a nonprofit has been formed to operate the center and an executive director is expected to be hired by the end of March.
Rattling off a list of highlights for the Pikes Peak region, Hickenlooper pointed to the Cyber and Space Operations Center coming to Colorado Springs, as an example of how the city is "leading the pack in cybersecurity intelligence" and that the "talent and resources here perfectly position the state to be one of the real leaders" in that field. He said the center will be "the only private space and satellite research laboratory of its kind in the nation."
Hickenlooper also highlighted the importance of the state's aerospace industry and military installations, applauded local efforts that he said are "very close to functionally ending veteran homelessness," called for reforms in mental health treatment and promoted the potential of the 70-mile Ring the Peak Trail to attract tourists.
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