George calls for advanced transportation solutions
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. In a world of dwindling oil reserves and growing concern over climate change, new thinking is needed to solve traffic and its attendant pollution problems. That was one of the themes of a transportation conference held Friday at the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs. Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) executive director Russell George called the present time, “a moment of challenge” to find creative solutions to forge a new energy economy less dependent on carbon-emitting cars.The future for transportation in Colorado, he said, “is more than a highway.”George, who was appointed to head the department by Gov. Bill Ritter this year, spoke of one opportunity that rings true to many who live along Interstate 70’s western Colorado corridor.CDOT is in the process of preparing a programmatic environmental impact statement to evaluate ways of alleviating growing congestion on that roadway.
A coalition of local governments has pushed CDOT to look at alternatives to adding more driving lanes to the highway and creating another bore at the Eisenhower tunnel, including bus and rail transit.George said he supports those alternate means of travel for the I-70 corridor.”There’s no question in my mind … (and) it’s my belief that CDOT absolutely embraces these multimodal opportunities,” George said.However, CDOT hasn’t enough money to fund its highway projects let alone new transit, he added. “It’s just the cold hard facts.”Although the funding source is unknown presently, “we have to have an honest-to-God irrevocable start on the transit piece. I don’t think we can afford not to.”David Burwell, former CEO of the Rails to Trails Conservancy, said all cities have traffic problems, but not all of them solve the problem in the right way.
“We try to build our way out of it,” he said. But building wider or more highways only increases traffic. Some have taken innovative steps to alleviate them.”When you design your community around cars you get more cars,” he said. “When you design your community around people you get more people.”Most local governments rely on federal tax dollars for highway projects, but that money is drying up. “It will be bankrupt next year if nothing happens to refill it, so federal assistance to states will go down rapidly,” Burwell addedAlthough it has not been popular with voters, states and the federal government need to increase gasoline taxes, the backbone of highway funding. They also need to consider collecting tolls to fund highways. Major East Coast highways all have tolls along their lengths, as do highways in Europe, he said.Further, transportation needs to be part of land-use planning, not an end in itself. “Transportation is essentially about community development,” he said, and communities need to be involved in designing their streets and highways.
“Community involvement is the mother’s milk of transportation problem solving,” he said. “It’s not public participation, which is marketing, it’s community engagement.”Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. email@example.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO
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