“Let them ride bikes,” say the transportation planners of the state’s most populated regional planning organization.
The fallout from CDOT’s shift from an organization solely concerned with building and maintaining the state’s roads into a technocratic experiment in human behavioral engineering is beginning to take effect.
The board of the Denver Regional Council of Governments, a planning agency governed by local elected officials, will vote on a long-term agenda-setting plan next month that’s been overhauled to comply with a state mandate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector. That’s now Colorado’s largest single source of climate-warming gasses.
The new plan would ax planned expansions of Interstate 25 and C-470 and cut or minimize similar widenings on smaller roads across the region. It would also move $900 million away from road expansions to fund climate-friendly transportation projects, including projects that would overhaul busy streets to help public buses move faster.
The “state mandate” in question stems all the way back from the unauthorized-tax behemoth that was Senate Bill 260, which passed in the 2021.
Aside from raising taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel, retail deliveries from services like Amazon and DoorDash, ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft, and car rentals, the bill also asked CDOT craft new rules designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with the Governor’s pollution reduction roadmap.
Here’s what I wrote at the time the rule was being considered:
According to the Denver Post, “The proposed rules, which the Transportation Commission could adopt in mid-December, functionally would result in the shifting of substantial project money away from road expansions, boosting projects that provide less-polluting alternatives to driving.”
If the department’s cost benefit analysis for the proposed rule is accurate, that “substantial project money” is estimated to be a cool $6.7 billion diverted from future road expansion projects, even as the state has absorbed a 15% boom in population and seen commute times increase by nearly 10% over the last decade.
Refusing to keep up with road capacity as the state’s population continues to increase is wholly irresponsible. Coloradans need new roads.
On one hand Governor Polis wants to electrify fleet vehicles like school buses and encourage Colorado’s commuters to do the same, and on the other he’s overseeing the proposed defunding of road projects that would help support those very same vehicles.
What’s more, the proposed rule goes further than comparable regimes in states like California and Massachusetts by containing an enforcement mechanism. This would allow the state to withhold additional transportation funding from planning organizations that fail to meet GHG reduction targets or show a sufficient willingness to implement GHG-offset projects.
Nevertheless, the rule was finalized last December. Now the state’s transportation planning organizations, operating in regions both urban and rural, must figure out how to encourage residents to eschew car travel in favor of public transportation, bicycle travel, or walking in order to receive both state and federally appropriated transportation funds.
If you’ve had the misfortune of having to drive on Colorado’s roads for any length of time, you’re well aware of the sad state of affairs they’re in. Traffic jams are the rule rather than the exception regardless of the time of day.
And while the state continues to subsidize electric vehicles—a move that on its face would seem to encourage further demand on major road capacity—it’s simultaneously moving to defund road projects that would help relieve vehicle congestion on some of the state’s most travelled roads.
Expanding bicycle and pedestrian lanes is all well and good for residents living in densely-situated urban areas, but the fact remains that the majority of the state is still simply built for motor vehicle travel no matter how much the anti-car crowd stamps its feet.
And though they would be loathe to admit it, lack of bus lanes and high transit fare are not the factors holding back widespread participation in public transportation.
The wielding of financial carrots and sticks by transportation bureaucrats is not likely to change that anytime soon.
The plans from the DRCOG may be the first to become publicized, but they won’t be the last. Welcome to the new paradigm in transportation planning across the state.