Political Ad from 100 Years Ago Mirrors Colorado GOP Approach to Transportation: More Roads, More Traffic

A Streetsblog reader sent in this clipping from a 1920 Oregon newspaper. Somehow it's still relevant today.
A Streetsblog reader sent in this clipping from a 1920 Oregon newspaper. Somehow it's still relevant today.

Four Republican lawmakers introduced a bill Wednesday, the first day of the 2018 Colorado General Assembly session, that would ask voters’ permission to bond against a budget surplus in order to widen highways and expand roads.

House Minority Leader Patrick Neville “says there’s no reason why nearly all of the new revenue shouldn’t go to widening highways, adding lane miles throughout the state and rebuilding traditional infrastructure,” according to the Associated Press. Senate Bill 1 would raise up to $3.5 billion.

The idea is straight out of 1920. Look no further than the above ad from a century-old Morning Oregonian for proof. “The Auto Pays the Bill,” it declares. “Good Roads bring the autos — the more autos, the more money for good roads — Let’s build the roads and develop Oregon.”

In a way this ad was ahead of its time. It implies what we now know: More and wider roads attract more drivers, which means more traffic — like on I-25, where the Colorado Department of Transportation widened the highway and congestion came back with a vengeance after a short reprieve.

There’s nothing wrong with good roads. The problem is that CDOT cannot afford to maintain the ones it has. Yet the bond measure would fund an expansionist’s buffet of freeway blowouts and highway lanes, including widening I-25 and I-70 in metro Denver, according to CDOT’s “Tier 1” project list [PDF].

Transit projects, which would actually move more people in limited space, account for just 15 percent of the total cost of projects on this list. What Colorado needs is a ballot measure a la Washington and California that prioritizes transit with billions, not chump change.

Politicians may score easy political points by repeating how bad traffic is, but their so-called solutions would make it worse. SB1 would continue the vicious cycle of road-building, and the traffic and pollution that has followed thanks to this 1920s mentality.

  • TakeFive

    SB1 has nothing to do with I-25 and I-70 in metro Denver. The HOV/Express lanes on I-25 from 120th Ave to E-470 are funded and under construction. Central 70 is also funded and contract ink is dry. SB1 is more about roads outside of Denver.

    This is all about old time politics of Republicans wanting to spend more state general fund money on roads and less on things that Dems care about. By committing the state’s general fund to a 30-year payback then less money is left for liberal stuff.

    This dog won’t fly nor should it. It’s really about posturing for the governorship in November. With Colorado/Denver Dems becoming ever more liberal the Republican strategy is to be the party that has the centrist candidate this time. AG Cynthia Coffman would indeed appeal to voters but will the core conservative Republican voters like her? BTW, one-third of metro voters are unaffiliated and they are the election deciders.

    • David Sachs

      CDOT wants money to widen other parts of I-25 and I-70 in the Greater Denver Area, as the list shows. And no, not all phases of the Central 70 project are funded.

      • TakeFive

        scurries to read pdf; zooms in and grabs stronger ‘readers.’

        For starters Greater Denver =/= Denver or metro Denver and it’s not even close. Many of the listed projects within metro Denver have either been completed, are under construction or are funded and scheduled. A lot of the listed projects are safety improvements and not an “expansionist’s buffet of freeway blowouts and highway lanes.” https://www.bizjournals.com/denver/news/2017/12/21/cdot-meridiam-kiewit-partners-seal-the-deal-for-2.html

        KMP’s share of the project’s financing includes a $416 million TIFIA loan from US Department of Transportation and $116 million in “Private Activity Bonds” that were underwritten by RBC Capital Markets, Barclays and SMBC. KMP is responsible for repaying the loan and the bonds.

        “Today’s financial close is a major accomplishment for the state of Colorado. It means we have taken the final step in partnering, and will now move forward with construction,” said David Spector in a statement.

        I assume CDOT still has intentions of adding lanes beyond Chambers Rd where Central 70 project ends but that’s a nothing burger.

        • David Sachs

          No. Even at more than $2 billion, the agency doesn’t have enough money to do the entire I-70 widening, which is why CDOT is breaking it down into phases. Phase 2 includes, among other things, additional lanes that will be tolled. CDOT plans to build a footprint wide enough for them, even though it doesn’t have enough money to build the entire project. Taxpayers will be on the hook.

          • TakeFive

            Central 70 is a $1.3 billion project and is funded. You might consider finding better sources. As I said immediately above:

            but if you mean adding lanes beyond Chambers Rd where Central 70 project ends that’s a nothing burger.

          • David Sachs

            No, the I-70 project is not $1.3 billion and it is not fully funded. It will cost CDOT (taxpayers) about $2.2 billion over 30 years or so, according to the contract between CDOT and it’s private partners. And again, it is being done in phases. Check the record of decision and EIS. My sources are primary sources. Yours are talking points created by the agency and repeated by others.

          • TakeFive

            I’ll take your word for this since I’m not in the business. Yes, I knew they did an EIS on I-70 from I-25/Brighton Blvd out to what Tower Rd? But they needed to do a P3 since CDOT is so poorly funded. The feedback they got was prospective partners weren’t interested in going that far. So they redefined the project 1st to I-225; then they got feedback that partners preferred Chambers Rd. So that was the decision; the project was redefined and renamed Central 70. I knew they got a NEPA but not the ROD. In any case I have no idea the priority for going further out. It won’t be presumably a P3 and whether any further distance includes an express lane hasn’t been decided afaik. My apologies for any inaccuracy but I was speaking specifically of Central 70 =/= I-70.

          • Roads_Wide_Open

            The ROD Phase 1 = “Central 70”. They are building 70 out enough to have two tolled lanes in each direction, but only striping one in each direction now. This is a cost saving measure during construction, similar to why they build-out both twin tunnels at the same time east of Idaho Springs. It’s a $1.2 billion dollar project (“Central-70 = phase 1 of the ROD), where tolling funds go back to maintain the roadway and pay a profit to the banks/companies that loaned funding to complete the project.

          • TakeFive

            Sachs assumes “taxpayers will be on the hook” for additional lane implementation. As you point out how much will it cost to restripe from one to two tolled lanes in each direction? Besides any improvements connected to that as well as any extensions could potentially be covered by future projected tolls.

            For now any prospective future ‘phases’ become no more than part of a $9 billion backlog of projects. They won’t consider any additional potential phasing until the Central 70 project is finished in 2022 and operating for a few years.

          • TakeFive

            You made me do: fortunately I didn’t have to read too far to find what I wanted. Hmm edited and abbreviated for brevity since I can’t copy or print. Very 1st paragraph.

            DECISION: This ROD the FHA selects Preferred Alternative Phase 1 (of the I-70 project) aka Central 70 Project. …. Subsequent phases (not Central 70) although analyzed in the EIS are Not being authorized at this time.

          • TakeFive

            according to the contract between CDOT and it’s private partners.

            Okay, I give up but I tried. I assume you mean HPTE and I can’t find any link for the HPTE/Meridiam contract? Help me out.

          • Roads_Wide_Open

            – The construction project is $1.3 B. There is only one current project.
            – Additional funds collected from tolls go back for highway maintenance and profit for the loan company.
            – CDOT will not maintain the roadway and toll lanes after construction.
            – CDOT will not be in for the additional cost. Nor will the tax payers who don’t travel on the toll lanes (like me).
            – Even though the ROD is for the entire corridor, the only current project is “Central 70” (which happens to be phase 1 in the ROD). You’re assuming the ROD is what will get built. The ROD outlines what WILL be build if a project comes from it and as funding allows.

          • TakeFive

            Thank you. As this project evolved things got confused, apparently, but understandably. While the original EIS extended out to Tower Rd ultimately it was boiled down to the Central 70 Project. For clarification this was originally called Phase 1 and subsequently named Central 70 Project. The ROD is for Central 70 but also clarifies the shortened result from the initial longer EIS. That’s all.

            Sachs likes to conflate issues. Any reference to the P3 contract costing ~$2.2 billion over 30 years is silly. The P3 contract is Not just a construction project; it’s a design-build, operate, maintain and repair. That is wholly different from the construction project.

          • David Sachs

            “When funding becomes available for the future phases of the project, an additional lane will be added throughout the project corridor.” From the record of decision.

          • Roads_Wide_Open

            I wonder if you have any clue how toll lanes work…it’s pretty simple actually. IF you don’t drive on one, you don’t pay for it. The ones who CHOOSE to drive on it, pay for it. They are the “taxpayers” who are paying. If you “David the Taxpayer” don’t drive on it, you don’t pay.

  • TakeFive

    Transit projects, which would actually move more people in limited space, account for just 15 percent of the total cost of projects on this list. What Colorado needs is a ballot measure a la Washington and California that prioritizes transit with billions, not chump change.

    I’m very supportive of more transit funding. Unfortunately you are seriously conflating government jurisdictions. Washington has a DOT that added a $billion a year to their DOT in 2015. Then in 2016 Sound Transit passed the $54 billion ST3 which was approved by the metro voters. Likewise Measure M was an LA County vote and not California.

    Getting the state/legislature to spend money on Denver transit is the longest of shots, especially when jurisdictions outside of Denver have been begging for years for road congestion relief.

  • John Riecke

    Why must Republicans be so disingenuously regressive? What does it gain them? Just votes? Because as you said, expanding roads that we already can’t afford in order to stuff more cars into cities which are already bursting is a really stupid plan.

  • mattlogan

    I just got off the phone with State Senator Vicki Marble.

    I started off the conversation asking what percentage of the proposed revenue would go to alternatives. She didn’t know. I asked her what the total proposed revenue was. She didn’t know. I told her I would like to see 10-15% of any new revenue go to alternatives (which is still well below the national state percentage)

    I spent about 25 minutes trying to make the case to closely examine the value of highway capacity expansion rather than assuming every expansion is a net plus for the state. She was completely unreceptive, responding with talking points like

    “we need to keep up with demand”

    To which I asked if she knew what induced demand was, and she didn’t, so I asked her to recall what Ronald Reagan said was the inevitable result of expanding government (the services get used more), then stated that the same logic applies to roads.

    “a lot of this is about improving safety”

    To which I asked her if the highways were responsible for the crashes. She said she was in a crash, caused by another driver. I asked her if the highway caused the other driver to crash into her. She responded that it was congested. I suggested that humans have the ability and responsibility to drive in a manner appropriate for conditions.

    “we need the economic growth”

    She said this after I had pointed out that national studies show the ROI for highways has dropped below the ROI of leaving the money in the hands of taxpayers.

    “Well, if we had all the money in the world…”

    I told her we don’t need to spend more money – we need to focus what we have on what people have expressed as their need. I referred her to the National Association of Realtors community preference survey that showed 50% of Americans want more alternatives to driving. I told her to be wary of the tendency to assume that the mode people use today is what people want, pointing out that many people are forced to drive (like me) by a lack of alternatives where they live.

    I also pointed out that highways are built to last for 50 years, and that in 50 years, the primary benefit of highways (reduced trucking costs) is going to be irrelevant due to automated travel. She responded that we don’t know the future. All we can do is plan based on how things are today, I referred her back to my induced demand comments.

    During the entire time, she never refuted any fact I highlighted with a fact of her own. A fact was always met with a 1950’s talking point. I don’t think she will remember anything from our conversation.

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