CDOT Can’t Afford to Maintain Its Roads But Wants to Spend Big to Widen I-70

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Photo: Jimmy Thomas/Flickr

Colorado Public Radio aired a story today about the looming budget crunch facing Colorado DOT. In a nutshell, the agency can’t afford to maintain all the highways it’s built:

Roads need upkeep. It often feels as though interstates need more lanes. And there’s constant pressure for more mass transit options, both to help folks get around – and to keep them from contributing to congestion.

The problem is, there’s no money to do any of it.

“Almost all of our budget right now is going to maintaining our system,” said Colorado Department of Transportation Executive Director Shailen Bhatt. “We are not adding capacity in the state.”

Right now, CDOT only has enough money to maintain the state’s highway system in its current condition for the next 10 years.

After that? Current projected state revenues will cover just 46 percent of Colorado’s transportation needs over the next 25 years.

The department faces a $25 billion revenue shortfall over that period, including a nearly $9 billion shortage over the next 10 years.

Highways are expensive to build and maintain. So if CDOT already can’t afford to keep its existing highway system in good repair, why is the agency spending $1.7 billion on adding four lanes to I-70 in north Denver?

That one project costs more than three times what CDOT spends on maintenance (page 7) in a year. And building it will only make the state’s infrastructure deficit worse.

A wider I-70 will generate more traffic and lead to larger maintenance bills in the future, as the number of vehicles on the roads increases. On top of that, providing basic public services like water, sewers, police, and fire protection to the sprawling, car-based development induced by the wider highway will cost much more than providing the same services to walkable development that could be built in the highway’s footprint.

More money can only go so far to fix Colorado’s transportation and infrastructure problems. If CDOT doesn’t spend its resources on efficient solutions, like transit, that support walkable places, the state will keep falling behind on maintenance.

A good way for Governor Hickenlooper to get started on smarter infrastructure investment would be to spike the I-70 boondoggle.

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