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Opinion Columns

Opinion: Colorado can’t withstand more growth without modernizing our aging bridges and water infrastructure

It’s a new year, new decade and a new legislative session, which also brings fresh opportunities for the state of Colorado.

Touching on issues from healthcare to education, thankfully Gov. Jared Polis’ State of the State address also mentioned another hot-button voter issue: infrastructure.

Peyton Gibson

However, additional steps must be taken to ensure we have systems that can support our growing economy and population. The United States faces a $2 trillion infrastructure funding gap, and the same challenges that are being seen throughout the country can be felt right here in Colorado.

Infrastructure is what enables us to enjoy Colorado’s beauty, and what physically connects our booming economy.

According to a recent Build Together survey, nine out of 10 Colorado voters support major infrastructure investments and are ready to hold their elected officials accountable.

The voters have spoken and want to see politicians work together across party lines on a comprehensive infrastructure program that would repair roads, bridges, public transportation and more.

While Gov. Polis’ concern over the condition of Colorado’s infrastructure is encouraging, he failed to get specific on new sources of revenue for improvements and maintenance. 

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

We are fortunate to be surrounded by a landscape of mountains, rivers, campgrounds, parks and forests. In fact, the state has been named one of the most appealing places to live in the country, as is evident from its rapid population growth in recent year.

According to 2018 U.S. Census Bureau data, Colorado is the seventh-fastest growing population among the states by percentage of residents (eighth in overall people).

Denver alone ranks ninth highest in numeric growth for cities with populations of 50,000 or more. Colorado cannot withstand this growth without modernizing our aging bridges and water treatment facilities.

Gov. Polis briefly addressed emerging challenges facing state roads and transit during his address, citing the decreasing effectiveness of Colorado’s fuel tax as current and future needs are outpacing its revenue.

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) estimates that there is a $9 billion backlog in transportation maintenance and project funding, with congestion becoming a growing concern. The poor conditions of our public roads cost motorists an average of $637 per year in repairs.  

We must not forget about our water systems. Over the next 20 years, we will need to invest roughly $10 billion to maintain drinking water standards and roughly $4 billion to keep up with wastewater needs.

Also concerning are Colorado’s schools. Colorado faces a $640 million funding gap for aging schools. Gov. Polis addressed the need for increased education revenue but did not address the outdated infrastructure that supports the education system.  

The Colorado Section of ASCE will unveil its 2020 Report Card for Colorado’s Infrastructure on Jan. 30, which will identify our state’s current infrastructure conditions and funding needs.

The report card will not only illuminate where we are today with our roads, bridges and water systems, but it should serve as a catalyst for legislative action in 2020.

We believe Colorado is the most beautiful state in the nation and, as more people move here in hopes of experiencing it for themselves, modernized infrastructure is necessary to keep it that way. 

Peyton Gibson is the Chair of the 2020 ASCE Colorado Infrastructure Report Card and currently works for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on the Board of Infrastructure and the Constructed Environment. She graduated from the Colorado School of Mines with a civil engineering degree and is pursuing her M.S. in Transportation Engineering at CU Denver,

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