By Caitlin Switzer
REGIONAL—(August 20, 2013) “Transportation means economic development,” Colorado Transportation Advisory Committee Chair Vince Rogalski told the crowd who gathered to hear him speak at Forum at Heidi’s Brooklyn Deli on Aug. 7. “Without transportation, you can’t get your goods out to anybody.”
Rogalski, who has worked with the Region 10 League for Economic Assistance & Planning since 1984 and served as head of the Gunnison Valley Transportation Planning Region, shared insights and information about transit and transportation planning throughout the six-county (Montrose, Delta, San Miguel, Gunnison, Ouray and Hinsdale) region.
Colorado appointed its first transportation commissioners in 1909, and the former Colorado Department of Highways was created in 1917, Rogalski said. Today, there are 11 commissioners, and a 15-member statewide transportation advisory committee which oversees the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT).
“CDOT’s budget of $1.1 billion per year seems like a lot,” Rogalski said. “But when the governor instituted an advisory panel to evaluate need, the panel estimated that CDOT needs another $1.5 billion annually to put everything in good shape.”
Regional priorities include Hwy 550, Hwy 50 and Hwy 92, Rogalski said, recalling that it cost $70 million to complete the recent four-laning project between Grand Junction and Delta.
Various mechanisms to fund transportation projects have been implemented over the years, with the traditional gas tax gradually becoming less important as transportation becomes multi-modal (encompassing rail and bus transit, bike trails and aviation, in addition to highways). Among the new concepts is the MPACT64 Initiative, a statewide collaborative effort that seeks to increase transportation funding throughout the state, Rogalski said.
Rogalski pointed out that the average cost of a car-deer impact is $3,000, and that it could cost $50 billion to replace the state’s once comprehensive system of railroads.
“The dollar numbers in transportation are horrendous,” he said. “But things are cheaper over here than they are in Denver.”
Money for projects is no longer allocated by the “resource allocation” process that divided funding for the state’s transportation regions on a percentage basis, Rogalski said, but by a “program distribution” process that takes all of the state’s roads into account.
According to CDOT, the average commute on the Western Slope is around 12 minutes, compared to 19 minutes in Metro Denver, and 17 minutes statewide. The number of daily vehicle miles traveled in Colorado is expected to reach 111 billion by 2030.
Both transportation and transit are key issues that will affect the economic health and future of this region in the future, notes Executive Director Michelle Haynes of the Region 10 League for Economic Assistance & Planning, which oversees transportation and transit planning efforts in the six-county region.
“Transportation is how we get goods and services in and out,” Haynes said. “When people relocate here, they need a reliable way to get things in and out. Transit speaks to a community’s live-ability; a number of people here must travel to work, and they need to be able to get back and forth cost-effectively. Our seniors need to be able to get around as well, to medical appointments and shopping, and they need to be able to get home.”
Transit services for seniors allow those who use them to remain in their homes longer, and to live economically and with dignity, Haynes said.
Currently, Delta County funds 60 percent of senior transit services, compared to six percent funded by the City of Montrose and Montrose County, Montrose transportation advocate and community activist Peter Crowell said.
“Mesa County spends less than we do, though they have more roads,” Crowell said. “Two things that are of great importance to me personally are the development of a regional transit authority for the Delta-Telluride corridor and the increased funding for human services transit from the City of Montrose and Montrose County.”