Report: 21st Century Transportation for Colorado

Colorado's Transportation Crossroads

Priority Transit Projects for the 21st Century
Released by: CoPIRG Foundation

Colorado’s transportation network does a poor job of meeting the needs of the state’s residents. Heavy automobile traffic forces consumers to spend more money at the gas pump, steals time from Colorado families and businesses, makes our air less healthy, deepens our oil dependency, and creates more global warming pollution.

Expanding public transportation can provide more Coloradans with alternatives to driving, while laying the foundation for an efficient transportation system for the 21st century.

Public transportation already helps hundreds of thousands of Coloradans get where they need to go. In addition to saving time and money for consumers, transit systems take cars off the road, cut air pollution, provide a dependable way to get around or an alternative way to get to work in a pinch, and can jump-start economic growth.

By expanding transit service and improving connections between existing service, Colorado could reap more of these benefits. Scores of good transit projects are waiting in the wings, while the problems affecting our existing transportation system only multiply.

Colorado’s current transportation system leads us to use too much oil, spend too much money on fuel, lose too much time stuck in traffic, and create too much global warming pollution.

  • Coloradans drove 46 billion miles in 2008, 70 percent more than in 1990. Even though per-capita miles driven in Colorado have stabilized in recent years due to improved transit options, higher gas prices and a weak economy, total miles driven continue to rise.
  • Coloradans lost 68.8 million hours stuck in traffic congestion in 2007, equal to 7,800 person years.
  • Between 2002 and 2007, gasoline expenditures rose 86 percent in the state, causing Coloradans to spend $2.6 billion more to fuel their cars than they had just five years earlier. Colorado’s heavy use of oil leaves us vulnerable to volatile world markets and dependent on foreign sources of energy. 
  • Transportation-based global warming pollution increased 62 percent between 1990 and 2007 in Colorado, jeopardizing the state’s efforts to cut global warming emissions.

At the same time, Coloradans are riding transit in record numbers, thereby saving money, reducing congestion, and cutting global warming pollution.

  • In 2008, 74 percent more Coloradans chose to ride transit than in 1991. In the Denver area, the number of passenger miles traveled via transit nearly doubled between 1998 and 2008.
  • Transit use in Boulder, Colorado Springs and Denver averted more than 5 million hours of traffic delays and saved consumers $107 million in 2007.
  • Public transportation in Colorado helped the state avoid emitting 80,400 metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution in 2006.

Colorado can reduce traffic, shrink its oil dependence, improve air quality, cut global warming pollution, and grow healthier communities by investing in public transit, creating more choices for residents. Good transit investments for Colorado include the following:

  • A rail network connecting communities north and south along the Front Range and west to destinations along I-70. Rapid train service could enable residents to travel between Front Range cities in half the time of driving, while easing congestion and helping to support the state’s important tourism industry.
  • Completion of Denver’s FasTracks plan, with its vision of a vibrant metropolitan area linked by efficient, modern transit. Current corridors where construction is underway include the East Corridor to Denver International Airport and along the Gold Line Corridor to Wheat Ridge. Encouraging walkable, mixed-use development centered around new FasTracks transit stops would further support the goals of reducing automobile traffic and protecting the environment. 
  • Improved regional transit for towns in the North Front Range, including the creation of commuter rail service or bus rapid transit linking Loveland, Greeley and Fort Collins, which could provide better connections for commuters and students traveling between the three cities, and the creation of transit service between Fort Collins and Denver.
  • Restoration of service that has been cut in Colorado Springs, and then the addition of faster regional and expanded local service. Bus rapid transit lines could connect Fort Carson and Peterson Air Force Base, two of the area’s largest employers, with residential areas. New and more frequent local bus service along with a “call and ride” option in more spread-out areas would provide transit choice to more residents.
  • Bus rapid transit in the Roaring Fork Valley. Efficient, high-capacity bus service on the Western Slope would address travel problems on the state’s busiest rural highway, Highway 82, and would more reliably link residents of the Roaring Fork Valley with employment opportunities in Aspen, Glenwood Springs and other regional centers.
  • Improved bus service in smaller communities. Transit, whether in the form of fixed-route bus service or more flexible on-demand service, can link those without access to a car to critical services, including employment, education, medical care and critical public services. Unfortunately, few rural areas and small towns in Colorado offer transit service for the general public, but the success of fixed-route bus service in Sterling, population 14,000, is indicative of the demand for better transit options in similar communities around the state.

Colorado needs an efficient transportation system to support the state’s economic recovery and future growth. Investing in transit now can put Coloradans to work and move the state toward a modern, 21st century transportation system that can meet our needs in the future. To get there, the state should:

  • Lay out a clear and compelling vision for transit in the 21st century. With a strong vision and commitment to invest in transit statewide as the sensible way forward, Colorado can build an integrated public transportation network to meet transportation needs and solve problems for residents in cities and towns around the state. Colorado recently took an important step in the right direction by creating a Division of Transit and Rail within the Colorado Department of Transportation and charging that division with developing a comprehensive statewide transit plan for Colorado. However, until the division has adequate funding and staffing it will be hampered in fulfilling its mission.
  • Provide stable funding to make the vision a reality. Any plan for transit in Colorado must be paired with dedicated, adequate and sustained funding for infrastructure and operating expenses. Colorado’s current reliance on sales tax revenue to fund transit leaves transit agencies vulnerable to budget shortfalls during economic downturns, times when they face higher demand for their services.
  • Urge Congress to reshape the nation’s transportation funding priorities. The new federal transportation law should prioritize investing new capital in public transit, fixing existing roads and bridges rather than building more highways, and spending taxpayers’ money more wisely by using federal dollars to invest in high-priority transportation solutions. 
  • Adopt other policies that support transit. Walkable, mixed-use development creates communities that can be easily served by transit and where residents have real alternatives to driving. Land-use policies can encourage this transit-oriented development.

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