Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

CDOT Chief: Roads are fine — for now

Colorado’s roads, bridges, railways and airports are in good condition, considering the condition that they’re in, says Colorado’s chief transportation executive.

But the time for complacency, neglect and under-funding is over, and the time to make hard decisions and put up some real money is now, according to Russell George, executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation.

George was the keynote speaker at the May 14 National Transportation Week luncheon and workshop, presented by the National Center for Intermodal Transportation on the University of Denver campus.

With his address, “The State of Transportation in Colorado in 2008: A Report Card,” George said he wasn’t out to scare anyone with reports of crumbling infrastructure, but the public and politicians are only this year beginning to understand the enormity of the task ahead. Colorado’s highways are overburdened, bridges are aging and public transit is lagging, George said.

“We have never forsaken the transportation system in this state, and we’re not going to start now,” he told an audience of students, scholars and transportation leaders. “Unless we do something more, then the [transportation] system we have is as good as it’s going to get.”

Patrick Sherry, co-director of the NCIT and the DU Intermodal Transportation Institute, told the crowd part of the work he and his colleagues engage in daily aims to push forward the University’s mission of serving the public good. By hosting the forum, “Show me the money: The transportation crisis and possible solutions,” Sherry said organizers hoped to spotlight an area of critical need.

And by seeking solutions and reaching out to the community with ideas and information, the institutes are helping the public understand the needs of Colorado’s transportation system in the 21st century and the costs associated with improvement.

The NCIT, a collaboration between DU and Mississippi State University, assesses the design and planning of the country’s intermodal transportation system and aims for improvements in efficiency and safety for both passenger travel and freight.

Carla Perez, Gov. Bill Ritter’s senior policy adviser for transportation, said the governor’s transportation panel found 122 deficient highway bridges, 40 percent of state roads in poor condition, with one in five found to have no remaining service life left. Combine the overuse, the wear and tear, the growing demands and natural calamities such as rock slides in the mountains, and the entire system needs attention now, she said.

But George said he was not disappointed with the Colorado legislature’s inability to begin funding Ritter’s transportation panel findings and suggestions this year. The estimated price tag of overhauling bridges and roads is daunting at about $100 billion.

There have been suggestions, such as a higher gasoline tax, increased vehicle registration fees and new tourism taxes. But anyone who expected a fix in just a few months is being unrealistic, he said.

For George, getting the conversation started — getting lawmakers and residents to recognize what Perez called the “quiet crisis” in transportation — was enough. For now. Next year, he said, he’ll look for action.

“Transportation is not all about money. It’s about quality of life, it’s about health and safety, it’s about freedom. It’s also about the economy,” George said. “Transportation is about many more things than money. But in the end, it’s all about money.”

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