As Colorado continues to grow, state leaders should steer the newcomers toward the Colorado River valley from roughly Glenwood Springs through Rifle to Grand Junction.
This would be a high-density population corridor, much like the Front Range, with large housing developments, houses on relatively small lots, major shopping centers, big industrial parks and interesting cultural facilities such as museums and performing arts centers.
The Colorado River banks would be kept as natural as possible, but intense urban development would be set back along both sides of the river. This linear city could become almost as populated as the Front Range, which extends from Fort Collins to Pueblo, via Denver and Colorado Springs.
There are many good reasons to concentrate future growth in this Colorado River valley corridor:
• The people would be where the water is. Everyone is concerned about our growing state's future water supply. Continued growth on the Front Range will require diverting more Western Slope water, mainly from the Colorado River, across the mountains to users in Colorado Springs, Denver and Fort Collins. That would require expensive dams, reservoirs and water tunnels under the Continental Divide.
Instead, put the people where the water is along the banks of the Colorado River. That will eliminate the need for the expensive water transporting infrastructure. And it will allow Colorado to use more of its water allotment from the Colorado River rather than letting it leave the state for use elsewhere downriver.
• New people also would be where the mountains are. Front Range residents can enjoy an urban and suburban lifestyle but drive into the Rocky Mountains to ski, hike, horseback ride, rock climb and tour by auto. New settlers along the Colorado River also would have the cosmopolitan benefits of city life with mountain recreation nearby and readily available.
• The transportation needs for a Colorado River Valley urban corridor already exist. Interstate 70 provides fast travel from Glenwood Springs at one end to Grand Junction at the other. In short, I-70 would serve the Colorado River Valley Corridor as I-25 does the Front Range.
And an active modern railroad, providing freight service and daily passenger service (Amtrak’s California Zephyr), already runs through the corridor. The railroad can inexpensively bring in the lumber, roofing shingles and other building materials needed to erect homes, offices and stores. Although the railroad is single-track, it could be double-tracked as the population grows, and frequent daily intercity passenger service could be instituted.
The railroad system could be expanded with growth. An unused but preserved track runs from Dotsero, east of Glenwood Springs, to the western edge of Vail. And existing rail runs up the Colorado River to Granby near Winter Park and through the Moffat Tunnel to Denver. The railroad could provide a direct link between the Front Range and proposed Colorado River valley corridors.
That's quite a combination cited above. This proposed corridor mega-city has the water needed for growth, is handy to the great recreational opportunities of the Rocky Mountains and has basic transportation infrastructure installed and operating.
But the real reason to steer growth westward to the Colorado River valley lies on the Front Range. As corridors grow, they become congested with people and vehicles. State and local governments can't keep up with the large population's needs. Crowded schools and highways are only two of the unpleasant results.
There is no better proof on the Front Range than the jammed conditions, with frequent annoying delays, on I-25 north and south of Denver. Directing population growth elsewhere can be a reasonable solution to this problem.
Horace Greeley, for whom an important Colorado city is named, said, “Go West, young man.” Consider changing that to, “Go West, new Coloradan, to the Colorado River valley corridor.”
Bob Loevy is a political scientist at Colorado College. He served on the Colorado Springs City Planning Commission from 1972 to 1975.