Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, senators Bennet and Hickenlooper talked climate change during visit to Glenwood Canyon
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttegieg’s visit to Glenwood Canyon Friday morning triggered plenty of focus on how lawmakers can help prevent future disasters like 2020’s Grizzly Creek Fire — and the debris slides that followed in 2021.
Buttegieg, joining senators John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet in highlighting President Biden’s $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, said the country needs to use this new substantial funding package to build anew and in turn place less dependence on emergency response.
“That’s why there’s an emphasis on things like evacuation routes, ways to shore up and prevent damage to critical infrastructure that’s in this area,” he said. “And make sure that folks like the CDOT team have the assets and the resources they need to very quickly respond to anything that might be coming.”
The 32,631 acres consumed by 2020’s Grizzly Creek Fire and the ensuing catastrophic debris slides in 2021 caused significant damages to Interstate 70. This prompted Colorado Gov. Jared Polis to initially request at least $11.6 million in federal aid for repairs.
Persistent surges of debris flows across Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon also prevented or delayed traffic throughout summer and fall in 2021. Many times motorists were forced to use two alternative routes — Cottonwood Pass toward the south, or Rabbit Ears Pass toward the north.
Colorado Department of Transportation Executive Director Shoshana Lew said the state is currently evaluating potential options for emergency services use on Cottonwood Pass.
“The State Transportation Commission actually just approved some initial funding for survey work to determine whether right-of-way needs for the tight curves,” she said. “We will likely be seeking additional federal support, probably from some of the new resiliency programs to assist with that effort.”
Up to this point, Lew said pending expenses incurred from Glenwood Canyon repairs are about $24 million. The Federal Highway Emergency Relief Program through the U.S. Department of Transportation is defraying these substantial costs.
“President Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill that he worked so hard to get passed is going to have somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 billion in Colorado for roads and bridges and basic infrastructure that we’ve been trying to get for for a couple of generations,” Hickenlooper said.
Friday’s visit from federal and congressional leaders also prompted discussion on global warming and how that plays an effect on natural disasters.
Included with Biden’s infrastructure bill was Hickenlooper’s Recharge Act, an effort to make driving electric vehicles more affordable for users.
Buttigieg said transportation alone is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gases, and that encouraging rural Colorado drivers especially could play a big factor in meeting solutions not just to mitigating global warming, but saving money by motorists deviating from the gas pump.
“Even with transportation, we’re working on aviation and shipping, which are going to be harder to decarbonize than surface transportation,” Buttigieg said. “But if you add all of these pieces together, we can get this done. And the truth is, we have no alternative, because if we fail to get this done, the consequences are just unacceptable.”
Bennet would echo Buttigieg’s sentiment toward alternative solutions to fossil fuels. He said, however, such initial steps taken to lower emissions are right now “nowhere near where we need to get.”
“The fires that are happening here aren’t happening by accident, the mudslides aren’t happening by accident, the floods aren’t happening by accident,” he said. “This is a result of climate change, and it’s affecting our economy dramatically.”
Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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