Guardrails needed on Colorado transportation funding bill to protect against wasteful highway widening projects

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SB260 would raise billions for electric vehicles, buses, and road projects


As the Colorado Senate considers a new transportation funding bill, SB21-260, CoPIRG is calling for changes that protect Colorado against any wasteful highway widening projects.  The bill will be debated in the Senate likely this Friday and Monday. 

In testimony to the Senate Finance Committee, Danny Katz, executive director of CoPIRG made the following statement:

“Transportation has a big impact on our health and safety, and our ability to freely pursue our own individual well-being as well as the common good. 

While CoPIRG is not yet in a position of support for this bill, I want to applaud a few of the investments included so far. 

Referred to both as the Safer Main Streets program and the Revitalizing Main Streets program, the tens of millions earmarked for that program will help ensure our downtowns and the arterials that act as main streets for so many are safe and people friendly for everyone to access the shops, entertainment, and appointments that are critical to our quality of life here. 

The hundreds of millions of dollars designated for electric vehicles investments are also coming at a critical time as we work to transition our vehicles to zero emissions – especially larger trucks and buses, which move people and goods but also emit unnecessary pollution while driving through our communities.

I’m also glad to see targeted multimodal dollars – especially a consistent, annual amount. In the transit world, capital dollars are important but you can build all the mobility hubs and buy all the buses you want – you need the operating dollars to actually run service. Transit providers have a difficult time providing service with one-time dollars since service needs to extend year in and year out. Dedicated annual dollars are critical and we should maximize as much of it in this bill as possible since many of the federal dollars we anticipate will be one-time capital and less ideal for expanding transit service.. 

CoPIRG is not yet in a support position because we have concerns around whether too many dollars will be sunk into large highway capacity projects that may not solve the problems many people want them to solve – namely congestion – while at the same time worsening other problems created by our current transportation system. 

For example, the state has a roadmap to reduce climate pollution in Colorado that I worry is not in sync with our transportation funding and investment plan. A critical piece of that roadmap says we need to reduce the growth in the amount of vehicle miles traveled in Colorado. Whether you care about tackling climate change via our transportation system or not, that vehicle-miles-traveled reduction goal is also the way to deal with safety problems, with health problems, and with congestion problems – especially in a state that is growing as quickly as we are. 

Numerous studies have found that, contrary to what I feel when I’m stuck in traffic, adding new highway lanes to ease congestion is not an effective long-term strategy. We spend a lot of dollars to do it and the congestion gains are short-lived. Ultimately, we have more cars and more pressure including pollution. 

I know we have big maintenance needs on our roads and I’m confident a lot of money in this bill will go in to fix what we got. 

But I’m concerned we do not have the proper plans in place to ensure that if we pump billions more into traditional transportation, that we won’t wind up sinking too much in highway projects that results in us being in the same position in 2030 around congestion as we are in now – except with more climate pollution, more air pollution, more crashes, and more potholes on other roads that missed out on maintenance dollars because of the high cost of highway capacity projects. I think this bill needs stronger guardrails to ensure we’re only putting dollars into the road projects that put us on path to hit our state’s goals around maintenance, safety, air pollution and reducing vehicle miles traveled. 

I look forward to conversations this week on how to possibly achieve this and thank you for the opportunity to testify.”