Infrastructure Report State of Disrepair
Our state’s transportation infrastructure is crumbling. We’re not maintaining our roads; we’re not expanding our systems to meet the state’s growing population; and we’re not thinking creatively to engineer solutions. If we don’t repair things soon, our highways and bridges will be in jeopardy—along with our treasured Colorado lifestyle.
Your urgent light rail questions, answered.
Why aren’t all the light rail lines built? Didn’t we vote on this years ago?
Voters approved a 0.4 percent sales tax increase to fund FasTracks in November 2004, but building public transportation systems in an established city takes an enormous amount of planning—RTD had to buy land, sign agreements with railroad lines, and design the lines and stations.
So when will FasTracks be done then?
Good question. The West Line (to Golden) will be done by 2013. The East Line to DIA and the Gold Line to Wheat Ridge will both be done by 2016. The rest of the lines (I-225, North Metro, Northwest Rail, U.S. 36 Bus Rapid Transit, as well as extensions to the Southeast, Central Corridor, and Southwest lines) will take more time.
Oh, because RTD is way over budget, right?
Actually, no: RTD is nailing its construction budgets. The problem has to do with overly optimistic economic forecasting. Like most everyone in 2004, RTD economists expected that the economy was going to keep rising and construction materials would remain stable. Instead, the economy crashed, so RTD isn’t getting nearly as much sales tax revenue as it expected. Construction costs, meanwhile, soared. RTD needs another $2.4 billion to complete the project on time.
Where is that money going to come from?
Most likely us. While RTD has saved $300 million by putting together public-private partnerships to finish the Gold and East lines, if we’d like to complete all the FasTracks on time (by 2020), we’ll need to approve another 0.4 percent sales tax increase in 2012. That’s eight cents for every $10 you spend—a pretty great deal considering the enormous effect on traffic and quality of life in the metro area.
Denver’s traffic may not rival that of chicago or L.A., but the city’s growth means we can’t just keep adding cars.
Although vehicle travel in metro Denver hasn’t grown much in the past five years, the vehicle miles traveled per day increased by 18 percent from 2000 to 2006. Which is why we’re all sitting in traffic on I-25 and I-70 going to and from work. On average, each vehicle on Denver’s major roads experiences 38 hours of extra travel time per year because of congestion. With an expected population growth of 1.3 percent annually, that delay time is expected to nearly triple by 2035.
To avoid turning into traffic-clogged L.A., we need to adjust. And in many experts’ views, adjusting means using incentives and disincentives to “encourage” people to change their habits, infusing congestion-mitigating technology into the traffic system, and working with businesses to get them involved in solving the problem. Here, five traffic alleviation tools that Denver could try.
- Ramp metering: Studies have shown that ramp meters improve speed and travel times and decrease crash rates. Metro Denver has 65 operational ramp meters ($55,000 each) and five that are under construction. CDOT expects that about 10 to 15 new ramps will be implemented over the next 10 years, while its long-range plan includes up to 80.
- Courtesy patrols: About 45 percent of congestion in this region is a result of traffic accidents or breakdowns. Courtesy patrols could provide assistance to freeway travelers in the event of breakdowns and crashes and get immobilized vehicles off the road. To cover 100 miles in the Denver metro area would cost an estimated $2 million annually.
- Active traffic management: Using traffic-monitoring technology and electronic signs above roads, traffic can be harmonized in real time. CDOT is considering using signs above I-70 east of the Eisenhower tunnel that could help pace traffic more effectively, especially during inclement weather.
- Congestion fees: Using electronic-payment technology, Denver could charge vehicles to enter certain zones during certain times of the day. These fees are designed to encourage people to choose alternate transportation modes during peak congestion periods. The cost of these devices is high and the process is often highly political.
- Teleworking: Denver has one of the higher teleworking rates in the country at six percent, but the higher that number goes, the less congested our roads will be. The Denver Regional Council of Governments offers employers free help with setting up plans for their employees through its RideArrangers program.