Are We Headed to Transportation Armageddon?

Our love affair with the automobile is about to end up in divorce court. Gas prices will keep increasing–most likely doubling in the next five years. Road construction costs will continue to rise at the current rate of 15% to 30% a year. Our roads will become more congested and state budgets, including Colorado, will have to spend billions of dollars to keep up with transportation needs.

And not to forget, the world is running out of petroleum with an estimated 65% of the oil reserves already consumed.Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe New Century Transportation Foundation hosted a special “Transportation and the New Energy Economy” symposium last week in Glenwood Springs and it was hard to pick out the good news about transportation.

Randy Udall, the director of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, said Americans are addicted to mobility, autos and smooth roads averaging over 12,000 driver miles a year—that’s a trip to the moon.

“With the production of petroleum peaking back in the 1970’s, we are faced with a paradigm shift in the energy world,” Udall said. He noted that most of the oil reserves are in regions with political unrest or are in unreliable relationships with the U.S. making America’s future oil supply murky. (Top photo of Middle East oil reserves.)

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketColorado Department of Transportation Director Russell George (pictured) noted that Coloradans will have to come up with transportation alternatives which will be costly in the short run. CDOT plans 30 years ahead with a budget that will exceed $100 billion.

“We need $50 billion to keep all the roads in working condition, let alone expand our transportation infrastructure for future needs,” George said. He admitted that funding will be hard to find no matter what the plans are. Investing in mass transit is a must.

David Burwell from the transit consulting firm of BBG Group said that most local governments depend on federal tax dollars to supplement their highway project costs, but that fund will go bankrupt soon if Congress doesn’t act.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket Another transportation expert, Jim Charlier acknowledged that the world is running out of cheap oil and estimated that there may be only about 40 years of oil supply left if used at current levels. “We can’t expand suburbia and sustain our current level of mobility,” Charlier explained, “households already spend close to 20% of their budget on transportation costs compared to 33% on housing.” (Bottom photo of Charlier’s chart on U.S. petroleum supply.)

The bottom line for Coloradoans will be to invest in mass transit and design growth around better transportation routes and shorter commutes – and to park our cars. Otherwise, the next generation may be forced to go back to horse and buggy.