First the bad news, then the good. We promise.
Summer travel season highlights a sad state of affairs, which gets worse each year. Highways in nearby Texas, Utah, Wyoming, Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska make Colorado look like a developing country — not a state with one of America’s top 10 economies.
The notorious I-25 Gap narrows to four total lanes of freeway between Colorado Springs and Denver, causing hours-long traffic snarls seven days a week. That is because The Gap links two metropolitan areas with a combined population of 3.8 million — not including the massive influx of tourists to our state. Both metros are growing by leaps and bounds.
Compare that to the freeway connecting Lincoln and Omaha, Neb. The 60-mile stretch of I-80 provides six total lanes, connecting two metropolitan areas with a combined population of 1.2 million.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper compared us to Utah during his 2017 State of the State speech, explaining our west neighbor has half Colorado’s population and invests four times more each year to expand highway capacity.
Then we have Texas, which builds frontage roads that rival Colorado’s major freeways.
Unlike Colorado, those states did not pour money into Medicaid expansion as part of the Affordable Care Act. Their legislators and governors improved highways for the past decade. Colorado politicians funded Medicaid, hoping voters would raise taxes if highways crumbled and traffic outgrew capacity.
Here’s the good news.
Politicians are forfeiting the game of chicken, realizing highway neglect kills people. The Colorado Department of Transportation says construction will begin next month to widen The Gap with one new managed toll lane in each direction. No one raised state taxes. The project adds a fourth lane for southbound trucks to climb Monument Hill. The state anticipates completion in 2021.
And here is more good news.
The Denver-based Independence Institute submitted 150,000 petition signatures Monday for a ballot measure called “Fix Our Damn Roads.” That is considerably more than enough signatures to get the measure on November’s ballot.
By approving Fix Our Damn Roads, voters will force state politicians to issue bonds for immediate highway improvements in 2019. They will force politicians to prioritize roads when allocating Colorado’s record-setting billion-dollar-plus revenue surplus. The ballot measure specifies highway projects, obtained from a list of priorities established by the Department of Transportation.
Not long after the institute delivered its petitions, the Denver Chamber of Commerce showed up at the Secretary of State’s office with petitions for a ballot measure demanding new taxes for transportation. Incredibly, the chamber wants a 21 percent increase in the state sales tax. It would make combined sales taxes in Colorado Springs and a few other cities among the highest in the country.
The proposed tax increase commits a significant portion of revenues to local transportation slush funds and special-interest transit projects.
As made clear by Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, the Pikes Peak region loses big if the tax hike wins.
With heavy equipment deploying to The Gap in September, hope lies on the near horizon for better mobility up and down the Front Range.
We applaud the Colorado Department of Transportation, Gov. Hickenlooper, Mayor Suthers, El Paso County commissioners, state legislators, and an assortment of other community leaders for forging ahead with long-overdue improvements to I-25.
While fixing The Gap is a big step in the right direction, it falls considerably short of resolving our statewide transportation crisis.
We need better highways soon throughout the state, not promises of fuzzy and uncertain outcomes at too high of a price. That means rejecting the 21 percent tax hike and saying yes to Fix Our Damn Roads.
The Gazette editorial board