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Opinion Columns

Opinion: Congestion is killing Colorado, and Proposition 110 is urgently needed

I remember riding the Denver Zephyr — a sleek, streamlined train — from Union Station to Colorado Springs. Gliding along the South Platte River, up Plum Creek and past Castle Rock, we breezed through the Greenland buttes and over Monument Hill, with Pikes Peak dominating the view.  

Next to the train tracks, a new interstate highway was under construction. It was the early 1960s.

Today, that 18-mile stretch of Interstate 25 between Castle Rock and Monument is mostly a parking lot. Traffic is gridlocked for hours.

The highway is not safe. It is why CDOT is fast-tracking expansion of this section of I-25, which they have dubbed “the Gap.”

But due to severe funding constraints, the highway will only be expanded from four lanes to six. This won’t solve the problem. Congestion and gridlock will return.

The Gap was originally completed in 1968. It connects Denver and Colorado Springs, the state’s two largest metro areas. Colorado’s population has nearly tripled in the last 50 years, but there have been no improvements to the road.  

A quick fix is needed, but we also need a big vision that anticipates new technologies, and includes high-speed rail and expanded trail corridors, launching us into the future.

Proposition 110 will ensure new and ambitious funding for projects like the Gap and for other critical transportation priorities across Colorado. It is urgently needed, and must be passed by voters in November.

Raising funds to pay for a $9 billion backlog in state transportation projects is a top priority for Gov. John Hickenlooper, who supports Proposition 110, together with local elected officials and business leaders from across the state.    

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

This is a pocketbook issue for Coloradans. The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce reports that we each lose 50 hours a year sitting in traffic with our cars idling. The value of that lost time and fuel is nearly $7 billion. In addition, we each pay $468 per year on car repairs from driving on poor roads. Prop 110 would only cost 6 cents on a $10 purchase.

It is also a quality of life issue, affecting our ability to stay competitive. Without transportation improvements, the lure of Colorado will start to slip. Hickenlooper likes to compare us to our neighbor, Utah — a state with half the population of Colorado, which spends four times more than we do on highways and transportation.  

Congestion and safety issues along the Gap mandate improving and widening that stretch of highway, now. There is at least one accident every day in the Gap, and one-third involve injuries.  

There have been a number of fatalities, including two CHP officers. Every minute that it takes to clear an accident causes four minutes of delay. Most days, travel time is 40 percent longer than what it should be. This is a familiar situation on many Colorado roads.

CDOT is to be congratulated on a high-quality and inclusive planning process, despite budget restrictions. Their plan for the Gap will anticipate future improvements, as Colorado continues to grow, with projections of another three million people by 2050.

Two decades ago I helped launch an ambitious conservation vision along this same stretch of I-25. Today, over 35,000 acres surrounding 12 miles of interstate are permanently protected, ensuring that Denver and the Springs will never grow together. It is a stunning landscape, and unchanged since I first traversed it in the Zephyr.

Colorado’s transportation infrastructure must match our exquisite environment. Let’s agree to generously fund a new vision for transportation in November. Vote Yes on Proposition 110.

Sydney Shafroth Macy is a fourth generation Coloradan who enjoyed a 40-year career in land conservation, with leadership positions at The Nature Conservancy and The Conservation Fund.  She recently completed a Fellowship in the Distinguished Careers Institute at Stanford University.