OPINION | Paving the road — literally — to recovery

Jan 15, 2021

Like most Coloradans, I was anxious to turn the page on 2020 and celebrate the new year.

Despite the challenges and upheaval of the last 10 months, there is good news on the horizon and I remain hopeful for a strong economic recovery and positive movement on some of the most pressing issues facing our state. It’s no surprise for anyone who knows me or knows the Colorado Contractors Association (CCA) that transportation is the issue at the top of that list.

As of 2019, Colorado ranked close to the bottom of the list when it came to poor, structurally deficient interstate bridges and interstate highways. Further, transportation research shows that unsafe roads and out-of-control traffic cost Colorado drivers over $7.1 billion annually. Further, more than 20% of urban roads and highways are in poor condition across the state.

Compounding the funding problem is the impact of COVID. In 2020, due to the impact of COVID on travel, or lack thereof, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) estimated that it lost close to $70 million in expected gas-tax revenue which will have a direct impact on projects in the 2020-2021 fiscal year.

We’ve heard it all before. Transportation infrastructure is an issue that has plagued our state for years and despite the best efforts of elected officials, policy makers and community leaders, we have failed. What’s changed?

The recently launched Road to Recovery Initiative, published by the Common Sense Institute and Colorado Business Roundtable examines the issue of infrastructure funding. Alongside a group of thought leaders from across the state, the report suggests we can’t unlock Colorado’s competitive potential without the help of Coloradans from various sectors and industries who work together to invest in our infrastructure and secure sustainable transportation funding. We agree and we remain optimistic about our chances in 2021.

As we look toward the 2021 legislative session, addressing Colorado’s infrastructure needs is a primary concern for leaders on both sides of the political aisle – and with good reasons. We simply cannot afford to kick this issue down the road. Safety is at risk, our quality of life is at risk and the bill just gets bigger.

One of the most compelling reasons to solve our transportation issue this year is COVID. In the wake of economic upheaval caused by the pandemic, investing in infrastructure can put our economy back on the road to recovery. Consider, for every $1 billion invested in nonresidential construction creates and sustains more than 28,000 jobs and another $1.1 billion in personal earnings.

There is good news on the horizon. First, the most recent federal stimulus package includes an estimated $150 million for Colorado’s transportation needs. While that doesn’t come close to filling the funding hole, it’s a good start.

Gov. Polis is committed to directing the stimulus money toward projects that are “shovel-ready.” He has also alluded optimistically that putting the federal dollars to work in the coming year will in turn create jobs and help reduce traffic.

With the additional federal stimulus money, it even looks as though the legislature will attempt to tackle the approximate $9 billion in operating deficit in the infrastructure sector.

Second, CCA along with dozens of coalition partners have formed a new transportation-focused business coalition, A Way Forward. Our group is solutions oriented and working closely with stakeholders and legislative leaders to develop a plan that will provide a long term, sustainable funding source to address our transportation infrastructure.

We applaud the efforts of lawmakers to consider these issues and look forward to working with everyone to develop a solution with the legislature back in session.

Tony Milo is the executive director of the Colorado Contractors Association.

Colorado Politics – January 15, 2021
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