Use Colorado pioneer spirit to fix I-70
February 14, 2008
Interstate 70 is critical to our state’s economy as a main conduit for business and tourism transportation. It’s time for us to take immediate action to relieve congestion on this vital artery. If we don’t fix I-70 in the next several years, our clogged economic artery will cause Colorado businesses to suffer a stroke. Waiting 10 years for added lanes and train systems will be too late. Colorado is a pioneer state, where people moving west used a spirit of self-sufficiency to develop their own solutions when faced with vexing problems. We must now use this spirit to pilot an immediate solution to unclog I-70. Testing an anti-traffic model along I-70 through a pilot program will yield significant results for the tourism, trade, interstate commerce, trucking, and distribution industries, among others. In this program, similar to highly successful models in other states and highways around the world, drivers would receive a payment for using the highway when it is not at peak demand and, in the second phase of the program, pay a small fee to use the highway when it is at peak demand. This is not the only solution to fixing the I-70 debacle, but it will provide immediate protection for our economy while we plan long-term solutions like bus lanes, mass transit and highway expansion. Our economy is fueled by the free market, supply and demand. This pilot program would put those principles in place to help alleviate the pinch on the economic vein running through the heart of our state. At one point in time, parking spots in downtown Denver were free because there was an abundance of parking space with little demand for it. Today, drivers expect to pay a fee to park their cars where demand is high, such as downtown during the day, and to pay even more when that parking spot is at peak demand, such as at a Rockies baseball game. Could you imagine all parking being free during a Rockies game? During very specific times, highway space along I-70 is as scarce of a resource as a downtown parking space. Given this problem, it is time for us to ask people to slightly change their driving habits, much in the same way they do for parking, in order to allocate scarce highway resources. When people put a value on highway space, they will change their habits in ways that will benefit our state’s economy and reduce carbon emissions. A five percent change in driving habits can reduce congestion by 50 percent. The fee necessary to change behavior could be minimal enough to actually save drivers the extra gas money they currently pay to sit in hours of traffic during high-demand times. An anti-traffic pilot program for incentive-based driving could offer a solution to what has become a critical problem. The pilot would consist of three phases, carried out over three years. Phase 1: apply a system of incentives and fees to commercial truckers so that they would not drive during high-demand times, combined with incentives only for other drivers to not commute during those times. Phase 2: implement a system of incentives and fees based on congestion for all drivers. Phase 3: carry out a comprehensive evaluation of the program. We would require the program to be successful to be renewed after 3 years. Extra money collected through the program could pay for other transportation and incentive options, such as free buses, that would boost tourism and stimulate local business. More people traveling would bring more money to Colorado’s mountain towns. The pilot can be implemented without toll-booths, using programs similar to those in place in many cities and highways across the U.S., in which a camera takes a photo of a car’s license plate. The car does not have to slow down or even pay at the time of use.Voters have a unique role in shaping tax and fiscal policy here in Colorado, which is why I wanted to start this dialogue. Our economy depends on I-70, and it’s clear that with our fiscal challenges we cannot remedy our troubled roads, highways and infrastructures with the same old thinking. It just won’t work. We must implement a solution that will improve access to Colorado’s natural beauty, grow our state’s economy, and lessen the environmental impact of congested highways. We need to do it now. The key is to use our Colorado spirit to pioneer new ways of solving this vexing problem.