Peak & Prairie
October / November 1999
Strike a Blow Against Sprawl November 2
by Don Thompson, RMC Transportation Chair
The election on November 2 will offer those opposed to sprawl a golden opportunity to vote for good transportation planning. Good planning will help to control sprawl since one of the biggest subsidies to sprawl is the building of new and expanded highways to service growth as it spreads into the fringes of the Denver Metro Area (and other cities, too). If we act to control the subsidy to highways, we will also act to control sprawl.
The November state-wide election ballot will have on it the TRANS proposal (Referendum A) to borrow Federal highway money to speed up the funding of major highway construction. The poster child of TRANS is the expansion of I-25. The unquestioned belief is that highway expansion will lessen congestion. But no studies are offered to further this contention, and the major investment study (MIS) which was done to look for methods of providing congestion relief did not propose highway expansion.
One of the reasons that the MIS did not propose highway expansion was because highway expansion was found not to be cost effective compared to light rail in the same corridor. The MIS also did not advocate highway expansion because it is such a short term solution. The recently released draft EIS shows that the millions of dollars that would be spent on highway expansion would only increase the average rush hour speed by 3 m.p.h. over the no-build option. Highway expansion was also not the choice of the Denver Regional Council of Governments who had not included I-25 expansion in the 2020 transportation plan. For these reasons, voters can strike a blow for good transportation planning by voting against the TRANS proposal.
On a more positive note, the Regional Transportation District (RTD) Board voted 13 to 1 to offer the voters a funding method to build light rail in the I-25 corridor. As mentioned above, light rail is the most cost-effective solution found in the MIS. The proposal (issue 4A on the ballot in the six county RTD district) calls for no new taxes, but does allow the district to keep all revenue collected through 2026 (known as "de-Bruceing") to pay off the bonds which would be issued. RTD has the distinction of having built the current completed section of light rail, and 80percent or so of the southwest extension, both on time and under budget, a claim that we seldom hear about highway construction. Light rail also has the ability to be easily expanded by adding additional cars to each unit to the point where it would provide the capacity of six highway lanes.
Support for the RTD issue 4A and opposition to the TRANS issue A will show that we know congestion is controlled by offering alternatives to highways, not by throwing dollars at bigger and bigger highways. One of the best ways to absorb growth without sprawl is to build public transportation corridors that will promote higher density development. To build the needed new public transportation facilities, we will need to not spend money on poorly planned transportation projects, and get Colorado to join the 44 states that provide some state funding for transit. Colorado is one of only six states that provide no funding for transit, and that fact alone may explain many of our congestion problems.
The best question Colorado voters can ask themselves in deciding how to vote on these two issues this fall is, "If highway expansion didn't work in Los Angeles or in Atlanta, why should we expect it to work in Denver?"
If you have any questions about either ballot transportation issue, or you want to become involved in the related election campaigns, contact Don Thompson at 303-320-4895 (phone and fax).
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