A Case For Real Transportation Improvements Across Colorado

Let’s Bring Back the Bypass

~ by Rick Langenberg ~

The last state legislative session was a wrecking ball, with fights over oil and gas regulations, clean energy priorities, education pursuits, illegal immigration and gun restrictions. Partisan politics ruled the day, and we are surprised that no lawmakers ended up the hospital.

One simple cure for this debacle:  Let’s find a clear and common sense state transportation solution.

Although it is a much tougher political road, a better transportation system in the region and state is an issue that unites leaders of both parties. We realize crafting a solution involves plenty of compromises and deal-making, but it is a worthy journey, and one that needs immediate attention.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis and CDOT leaders are putting the final touches on their grand state-wide listening tour. But let’s hope they are really listening, and we are anxiously awaiting their conclusions from a series of mostly poor attended meetings across Colorado.

Rumors are running amok that their forthcoming plan will become more of an environmental blueprint, with proposals for pie in the sky, billion-plus commuter rail projects, unrealistic trains in the sky and innovative ways to avoid driving altogether. We hope we are wrong with this prognosis, but preliminary comments about the governor’s future transportation vision aren’t encouraging.

Again, we appear to be staring at another attack against rural Colorado. Light rail is a great concept around Denver, and maybe a future expansion in the Front Range is certainly worthy of exploring. But it means gibberish to mountain communities. There is no room for such a system, unless the governor wants to use helicopters.

Meanwhile, anyone who has traveled the dreaded gap on I-25 between Castle Rock and Monument, or along I-70, knows the realities we are facing. Or for that matter, rush hour on Friday evenings on Hwy. 24 in Woodland Park.  It’s hard to fathom that our own Woodland Park is turning into a congested, vehicle deadlock.

A mini-bypass around Woodland Park, of some kind or whatever term is used now, needs to be resurrected. It was an absolute transportation tragedy that this plan was dropped in the 1990s by state and local officials/leaders. I recall meetings attended by several hundred people.

On the upside, this bypass subject got many people talking about a real solution to a real problem.

Already, there is talk of our fine governor scrapping the Tier 1 CDOT priority projects, including massive improvements on Hwy. 24 between Colorado Springs and Woodland Park. This list includes 74 prime projects of extreme importance. Don’t get stupid on us, Jared.

Our roads and highways are in dire condition, and we need a transportation rescue mission, with real money offered by the state.

As lofty as the governor’s clean energy goals are, one reality remains: Coloradoans love their vehicles. The idea of more electric vehicles is good, and maybe more incentives can occur to facilitate that development. (I certainly like them, even though a former city administrator in Cripple Creek jolted my nerves and nearly sent me to the hospital during a test drive at a Tesla sponsored event.  No names will be released to protect the guilty. Yes, 120 miles per hour in a 20 mile per hour area may have been a little much.)

A metropolitan bus system could not even work between Woodland Park and Colorado Springs. Of course, part of that problem was associated with bad publicity and a lack of support by local leaders. But that’s another story entirely.

Instead of increasing the gulf between the GOP and Democrats, state leaders should grapple with an issue that unites all Coloradoans, without increasing sales taxes.

Even though Colorado has taken a definite blue turn, citizens are fairly cheap and frugal in approving state sales tax initiatives. The same scenario is not quite true for local issues, when specific spending pursuits are unveiled. But for state-wide tax plan hikes, citizens have declared such pursuits as off-limits.

Money needs to be added to the state budget for transportation, with a growing pot for local communities. This way, road enhancements can occur in local rural communities, under the direction of CDOT.

But the idea of scrapping any future plans for adding asphalt and lanes to our clogged road system is ludicrous. Maybe the governor and CDOT Director Shoshana Lew have taken one too many light rail trips.

Moreover, the citizens need to speak out and let the governor know we are not a light rail and commuter train kingdom. Our future is really about better roads, along key thoroughfares and in local communities.

For example, the Teller County Department of Transportation does an admirable job in grappling with nearly 500 miles of gravel thoroughfares, but the agency could use a helping hand from the state to facilitate more paved roads.

Our state leaders need to think about one central theme in devising “out of the box” transportation plans: reality.  Along with that, here’s another reality jolt:  Let’s have a bypass in Woodland Park.