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.
The Right Track
High-speed rail could reshape transportation in the West—if it ever starts moving forward.
Imagine getting from Denver to Vail in 40 minutes, or easily skiing Utah for a weekend without ever boarding a plane. This is the promise of high-speed rail (HSR), technology that’s already ubiquitous in parts of Europe and Asia and could, if developed here, forever change the way we get around for work and play.
Unfortunately, imagining this transportation utopia is about all we can do right now. Despite the Obama administration’s commitment earlier this year of $53 billion to further the development of HSR, and Colorado’s potential as a hub, it may be 20 years or more before so-called bullet trains are a part of our everyday lives.
To Tom Skancke, waiting a few decades would be worth it. The executive director of the Western High Speed Rail Alliance says the debate about HSR mirrors one Americans had over the Interstate Highway System. “All the things they’re saying about HSR are the same things they were saying about highways in the 1950s, and now that’s the backbone of the American economy and what’s made this country the economic power that it is,” he says.
Countries like France, Germany, and China, meanwhile, have committed to HSR despite having topography similar to that of the Rocky Mountain region. “Engineers can engineer anything, and the technology can be created,” Skancke says. “The Chinese built 1,100 kilometers of rails in 48 months. We’re the only developed nation that doesn’t have this technology.”
The economic crisis means that dubious distinction won’t end anytime soon, unless we start thinking with some ingenuity. Henry Dale, former chairman of the Rocky Mountain Rail Authority, says that to have any chance of succeeding, American HSR needs private-sector developers who have the support of the government for right-of-way and environmental impact issues, both of which are being studied by intrastate groups across the country. Meanwhile, Skancke says test programs will start to pop up throughout the West and Southwest over the next decade. Until then, HSR’s sky-high potential may remain earthbound. m