December 2, 2021 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Evan Rao
In our time at Colorado College, practically every student is confronted at one point or another with this unfortunate fact: if you don’t have a car, it is surprisingly difficult to get around the state. Options for students to go from Colorado Springs to Denver include a bus line, which sometimes takes an hour longer than a car ride would, an expensive shuttle service, ride-sharing, taking a 15-minute flight, or driving along Interstate Highway 25.
Because of this, students without a car are put at a severe disadvantage when trying to get around Colorado, and often end up just sticking to walkable areas in Colorado Springs. However, thanks to Biden’s historic infrastructure bill, this all could change within the next 10 years.
On Nov. 15, 2021, and after much political wrangling and contention, Biden finally signed his infrastructure bill into law. A centerpiece of his campaign, the bill allocates roughly $1 trillion amongst the states to spend on transportation, broadband, and utilities.
Colorado will receive a moderately sized portion of the funding, $6.2 billion. Some analysts say is less than they would expect based on Colorado’s population and needs.
Nevertheless, $6.2 billion is a tremendous amount of money, roughly four times the annual Colorado Department of Transportation budget. Sen. John Hickenlooper of Colorado fittingly remarked during a press conference that “the infrastructure bill is a big deal. It’s a really big deal,” going on to claim that “this is the largest climate investment ever to date.”
While the sole intention of the infrastructure bill is not to address climate change, examining where money from the bill is going reveals how significant it will be for the climate. In Colorado, $3.7 billion is being allocated for highways, $916 million for public transportation, $688 million for water infrastructure, $432 million for airport funding, $225 million for bridges, $100 million for broadband, $57 million for electric vehicle charging stations, $35 million for wildfire management, and $16 million for cybersecurity.
Increasing funding in these areas demonstrates both positive and negative actions for the climate. Working to improve electric vehicle charging and to mitigate wildfires, for example, are clear areas where the climate will benefit, as encouraging the adoption of electric vehicles promises to curb tailpipe emissions, and managing wildfires will drastically improve air quality and save ecosystems.
Pumping $3.7 billion into highway infrastructure, on the other hand, is concerning, as more cars on the road means more emissions. The $432 million for airport funding tells a similar story, as does the funding for bridges.
Examining how funds might be allocated for these infrastructure projects will be vital. Whether projects entail expansion or repair might tell a more nuanced story of the capacity of the state to build climate resiliency.
Perhaps the most promising aspect of what Colorado is receiving from the bill is the $916 million for public transportation. In terms of energy consumption, passenger rail is generally three times more energy efficient than traveling by a car, making it one of the most environmentally friendly options available for traveling across long distances.
Considering that transportation represents 29% of United States emissions, it is clear that moving towards cleaner options like passenger rail is crucial for meaningfully confronting climate change.
This brings us back to travel along I-25 and a hopeful alternative: the promise of being able to travel along the Front Range through a train line within the next 10 years. It’s no secret to many Coloradans that the state has been trying to get this done for what feels like a lifetime, constantly running into funding and incentive issues and endlessly pushing the project back.
The near billion-dollar investment in public transportation, however, is set to change some of the gridlock.
Amtrak, which has previously stated its commitment to establishing a rail line linking the Front Range, is projected to receive much of the federal funding allocated for rail. The money has the potential to expedite the process of making a Front Range rail line a reality.
Among rail, other projects that line up with the Colorado Department of Transportation’s 10-year vision are expected to benefit: think lane expansions and rural road resurfacing.
“[B]ecause we worked with local communities to build a 10 year strategic pipeline already, we know exactly where we want those dollars to go and we can keep moving as fast as possible,” said Matt Inzeo, communications director of CDOT.
The prospect of traveling between Colorado Springs and Denver by rail is a tantalizing one, not only because of the convenience, but also due to the immense potential for driving down emissions from transportation statewide. Nevertheless, the bill’s effectiveness and climate impact all depend on how the funds will be allocated.