EDITORIAL: Transit speeds FASTER’s ability to reduce road congestion, SB-011 runs Colorado off the road

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A pack of shortsighted state lawmakers are trying hard as they can to get in the car and run it over themselves and everyone else in the metro area that just can’t stand road congestion these days.

Unless you never leave your house, you can’t help but notice that the metro-area boom in jobs and population has created the worst traffic congestion ever.

While state and local lawmakers may disagree on where the money should come from, nobody disagrees that we’re not going anywhere fast in solving traffic congestion unless we have more money to build, repair and expand roads and highways, not to mention and mass transit.

In 2009, desperate for ways to funnel cash into road projects, state lawmakers allowed for the creation of “FASTER,” which hiked license plate fees and raises about $200 million a year for transportation projects across the state.

In a stroke of wisdom and foresight, lawmakers required that a small percentage of the funds be funneled into mass transit projects, which these days equates to about $15 million a year.

Sadly, the $200-million-a-year raise by FASTER, and all transportation sources, isn’t nearly enough to meet the need, even though Colorado spends about 9 percent of its $30 billion or so each year on roads.

The problem is four-fold: many state and local roads were never designed to handle the volume of cars they have to withstand; we don’t have enough money to even maintain the inadequate roads we have; roads are expensive to build and maintain in Colorado because of the extreme weather and challenging environmental conditions; and people and their cars just keep coming.

The last part is an important and often overlooked key to the problem: People keep coming, and they all drive their cars, often alone.

The metro area agreed to build out a light-rail system to complement the RTD bus system because it makes for an easy way to commute, and it takes cars off the road, making road commutes easier.

While that logic is obvious to most, it’s not clear for everyone. Critics of mass transit say it’s expensive and does little or nothing to alleviate congestion.

They’re wrong. While mass transit isn’t cheap, it absolutely provides a faster, easier way to move in a congested city, and it really does make room on the area’s crowded roads — when the final pieces come together. The problem in the Aurora-Denver area is there isn’t enough mass transit, and it isn’t complete and sophisticated enough to lure people out of their cars — yet.

Senate Bill 16-011 seeks to repeal the part of FASTER that pours $15 million a year into mass transit projects, the idea being we just need more asphalt to solve our problem. That’s like a rancher saying he isn’t interested in spending money on chickens, he just wants more eggs.

Every dollar spent on mass transits pays us twice: it gets someone where they need to go, and it reduces the need for room on more, expensive roads.

Backers of SB-011 have it backwards. We need to spend more money, quicker on mass transit projects in urban areas to free up more money for expensive road projects outstate where mass transit isn’t feasible.

The Front Range is desperate for mass-transit systems between Fort Collins and Denver, and especially between Colorado Springs and Denver. But those projects are useless unless commuters can get to their destinations using final mass transit connections. Metro Aurora needs many more RTD buses, Uber, Lyft and taxi systems and a complete and expanded light rail or subway system that effectively— and affordably —  gets people into and out of core areas, and then allows them to commute to their final destinations,

While $15 million a year is a lot of money, it’s virtually nothing statewide in terms of providing real relief for traffic congestion. Mass transit will. Kill the bill.