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Opinion: Colorado is growing fast, and our roads must keep pace

A coalition of more than 50 businesses and organizations has outlined a legislative framework for safer roads and less congestion.

Traffic backs up on Interstate 70 near Silvethorne on Jan. 7, 2018. It is a familiar scene on the main highway connecting Denver to the mountains. (AP Photo/Thomas Peipert, File)

Anyone who has lived in the Denver metro region, even just for a few years, acutely feels the rapid population growth, and the corresponding strain on roads and highways. 

Colorado’s highways were designed for a population of 3.5 million people. The state now has 5.8 million residents with that number projected to hit 7.9 million by 2050. While this growth increases interest in Colorado’s booming housing industry, it cannot be attained without fixing and planning for our state’s transportation infrastructure first.

Elizabeth Peetz

The need is clear, but solutions haven’t always been easy. That’s why business leaders across the state are uniting around developing ideas to help solve our persistent transportation issues. 

A Way Forward, a coalition of more than 50 businesses and organizations, has outlined a legislative framework that leverages the Colorado Department of Transportation’s recently unveiled 10-year plan. After years of complaints from all four corners, CDOT undertook its largest outreach effort in the state’s history, going to all 64 counties and collecting feedback about what matters most to residents dealing with traffic on a daily basis. 

Not surprisingly, one of the biggest pain points in Colorado has been growth and traffic congestion. Because of our region’s access to high-paying jobs, quality schools, and abundant recreational opportunities, this growth trajectory is not going to change anytime soon, and our transportation system needs more capacity now.  

By failing to address our struggling highway infrastructure, tourism and Coloradans’ daily quality of life is impacted. 

Sitting in traffic for an extra 20 minutes while commuting to and from work has real opportunity and social costs for Colorado’s families. Spending an extra 30 to 40 minutes sitting in traffic every day could be better spent helping our children with homework, going to the gym, coaching a child’s sports team, or enjoying conversations around the family dinner table.

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There are real business costs as well. Employees stuck in traffic create real economic drain when it comes to labor productivity. As businesses consider relocations or corporate expansions, quality roads to efficiently move goods and people rank high in the site selection process.

In addition, drivers pay a hidden congestion tax as our roadways become increasingly crowded and neglected. A recent study by TRIP, a national transportation research nonprofit, revealed that unsafe roads and traffic congestion cost Colorado’s economy more than $8.5 billion a year – that’s more than $2,000 per driver every year.

Our transportation infrastructure affects the livability of our region, which in turn, affects the housing market. Not only will our failing roads and congested highways cost us time, money and growth capabilities, but additional stress on our transportation infrastructure will have a significantly negative impact on housing affordability for Colorado families. 

When our available housing inventory is low, and it is unaffordable to purchase a home, potential homebuyers drive farther and farther to qualify with enough down payment to purchase a home. Those extra miles increase the time we spend on the road in traffic and affect our quality of life every day when we commute.

Housing and transportation go hand-in-hand and we need to invest in both of these types of infrastructure to keep our state economically competitive for decades to come.

The A Way Forward effort provides not just the resources to position our transportation systems for current and growing demands, but also the mechanism to provide a level of accountability and oversight that taxpayers expect – but have not always received – with these types of projects.

With the development of the 10-year plan, CDOT created a website that features every project to be undertaken with this plan, allowing anyone to track the progress of individual projects, as well as how costs are allocated and spent at the project level. 

In addition to proper stewardship of our transportation resources, this framework will provide immediate, high-paying design and construction jobs within our communities. An increase in jobs will fuel our economy, tourism and abilities to provide goods and services. 

When we prioritize transportation funding and removing regulatory barriers to build more affordable housing, we enable more Coloradans to have the opportunity to build wealth through home buying and ensure equitable access to increasing home and property values. 

Essentially, A Way Forward’s framework will send a clear message to the businesses looking to move or expand operations in our state, the tourists seeking to visit our beautiful towns and outdoors, and the future residents hoping for promising housing opportunities; we understand that our transportation system is an important economic asset, and we are prioritizing it.

Our traffic problems in metro Denver represent one of our community’s biggest challenges, but they also represent one of our best opportunities to improve the great quality of life that brought all of us here. 

Please contact your state legislators and let them know that our transportation system matters, and we need to prioritize its expansion and upkeep. 


Elizabeth Peetz is the vice president of government affairs for the Colorado Association of Realtors and a member of A Way Forward’s executive committee.


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