Colorado spending stimulus cash on sprawl projects, or not

Taking up a question the Colorado Independent explored last spring, Washington D.C.-based Smart Growth America and Denver’s CoPirg (Colorado Public Interest Research Group) report that Colorado is funneling too much stimulus money into new roads instead of mass transit construction, which is bad because new roads translate to sprawl and because mass transit construction is more economically stimulating, creating up to 31 percent more jobs. But maybe the two watchdog groups got it wrong.

So far, $84.2 million has gone to “new highway capacity” while $31.1 million has gone to mass transit. Not good.

But first, the lion’s share of the Recovery Act money earmarked for Colorado for surface transportation projects, $278.7 million, has gone simply to repairing and maintaining existing roads.

Second, the state Economic Recovery Team has divvied up that Surface Transportation money with the knowledge that an additional $100 million in Recovery funds is coming in strictly for mass transit. That means the figures must be corrected: $84.2 million has gone to “new highway capacity” but now $131.1 million for public transportation.

Third, a glance at the stimulus transit construction in Colorado doesn’t look particularly sprawl crazy– no new prairie beltways circling cities and encouraging exurban sprawl. An interactive map of projects is available here. And there’s a pdf of Denver Regional Conference of Governments (DRCOG) metro-region projects here.

Myung Oak Kim, communications manager for the Governor’s Economic Recovery Team, told the Denver Business Journal that “Among the Recovery Act transit dollars coming to Colorado, the West Corridor line of FasTracks is getting $40 million and Summit County is getting $10 million for a new bus maintenance facility.”

The state could do more. But it has been putting in bike lanes and paths and has avoided the unthinking path cut by planners in Houston, who are cutting a path through prized wild prairie to make a four-lane highway to service the sad yet-to-be residents of unbuilt subdivisions. That’s the opposite of stimulus. That’s depressing.

In any case, this matter bears further investigation!

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About the Author

John Tomasic

Writer, editor, teacher, web wrangler. He has worked for art, business, culture, politics publications, five universities and a UN war crimes commission. @johntomasic | 720-432-2128 |

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