CDOT Director Says ‘Political Courage’ Necessary to Make Needed Transportation Investments

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CDOT will need ten times the $1.88 billion dollars awarded this legislative session for infrastructure projects around the state, says executive director Shailen Bhatt. That money was approved by lawmakers in a last minute deal after a sweeping transportation bill failed at the statehouse last month

Kicking off a statewide infrastructure tour in Colorado Springs Tuesday, Bhatt expressed frustration with the state’s inability to raise the money needed to modernize and maintain its transportation system. While he described the $1.88 billion as a good start, he said it would be little more than down payment on the $20 billion necessary to improve the state's infrastructure. Bhatt pointed to projects like the planned widening of I-25 between Monument and Castle Rock to highlight Colorado's transportation shortcomings.

"The idea that the two largest cities in Colorado are connected by an interstate that was designed in the 50s, built in the 60s, for a population in Colorado they thought would be three million people in the 1980s, is mind boggling," he remarked. He said he hopes to break ground on the I-25 project by 2019, but that progress will depend on future funding.

Bhatt also praised neighboring states like Utah, Wyoming, and Nebraska, which have recently raised taxes to fund transportation projects. He said it will take "political courage" on the part of lawmakers to make similar investments in Colorado.

"We simply can't afford to wait a decade dragging out the impacts of congestion between Colorado springs and Denver," said Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers.

"I would love to stand up here today and say that we have solved transportation challenges in our time in Colorado," he said. " I would love to say that we are now on a footing with surrounding states [...] that we have raised taxes to pay for infrastructure. We haven't done that, and therefore we have not solved the problem."

Bhatt commended Colorado Springs mayor John Suthers for his support of initiatives like ballot measures 2C and Issue 2, which set aside money for roads and storm water in Colorado Springs, respectively. Suthers also spoke at the event, and took the opportunity to urge lawmakers to move quickly on the I-25 project.

"As this area experiences record growth, we simply can’t afford to wait a decade dragging out the impacts of congestion between Colorado springs and Denver," he explained. "This is an improvement that will have immediate and positive impact on safety and the economy."

As for whether the state could get some financial help from President Trump’s promised trillion-dollar infrastructure bill, Bhatt said it’s too early to tell.