John Hickenlooper began his second four-year term as Colorado’s governor this week, and in his inaugural address Tuesday, he followed his usual script — personal, self-effacing, humble yet fully optimistic.
He didn’t specifically mention Colorado Springs. But then again, the governor’s approach wasn’t built on laying out the benefits, past and future, for any certain city.
Instead, Hickenlooper talked about such progress as cutting the state’s unemployment rate in half, to just above 4 percent. But he didn’t call that a victory, as he’s pooling funds from multiple state agencies specifically to help Colorado’s remaining 47,000 unemployed workers find their next jobs.
The governor did make one other point that should impact the Pikes Peak region. He talked about continuing to emphasize health care, education and natural resources, as well as making sure “infrastructure development supports the needs of our growing state population. We will pursue a strategy to add capacity to I-70 from DIA to the mountains, and on I-25 from Wyoming to New Mexico.”
That’s bold, but also essential. Before the November election, Hickenlooper said one of his second-term priorities would be to finish the widening of Interstate 25 in this region — meaning the final stretch from the Douglas County line atop Monument Hill northward to Castle Rock.
For those of us who drive I-25 regularly, that’s hugely important.
We might have bought ourselves some more years before the next I-25 congestion crisis in north El Paso County, with the rapid completion this past year of the additional lanes from Woodmen Road to Monument Hill. But it’s still treacherous — not just during the busy summer months, but on weekends throughout the year — for the 18-mile corridor between County Line Road (exit 163) and Plum Creek Parkway (exit 181), with only two lanes on each side.
Yet, adding lanes over those 18 miles won’t be traumatic, with no commercial or residential issues to circumvent through that unpopulated area, and no rush-hour gluts caused by exits.
Of course, that part of I-25 isn’t the only pressing priority. We’ll see the rebuilding of the Cimarron and Fillmore interchanges starting in a few months, though it’s good to know those are fully funded.
There’s also the more tedious, ongoing effort to straighten and modernize I-25 through Pueblo. And in Denver, hard as it is to believe, large chunks of C-470 — mainly west of I-25 all the way to Golden and I-70 — still are only two lanes on each side, with the daily crush of traffic growing worse each year.
But we have to hold the governor to that 18-mile promise, just as Douglas County should. In fact, when Hickenlooper comes here on Jan. 28 for the local version of his State of the State address hosted by the Regional Business Alliance, that would be a good time to offer a specific timeline — hopefully as soon as 2016 or 2017. That might well be the easiest project anywhere along the Front Range, ample reason to expedite the funding.
We also should hope for another hopeful idea from the governor, since he’s the one who mentioned “infrastructure development,” not just freeway improvements.
As long as the Colorado economy stays strong, Hickenlooper’s final term would be a good time to invest in serious plans for more mass transit — perhaps train service from Denver westward to the mountain resort areas, as well as Denver northward to Fort Collins and southward to Colorado Springs (someday Pueblo).
With the light rail nearly finished from downtown Denver out to Denver International Airport, the need for more service will become severe before we know it.
Yes, we’ve talked about all this before on these pages. But trust me, developing plans for more train service including between Denver and Colorado Springs has to be part of any long-range plan for both cities.
We can figure out later how to pay for it, and if the Front Range economy is stout enough, perhaps a short-term sales tax from Fort Collins to Pueblo, obviously presented to voters in all affected counties, could be the answer for accelerating the mass-transit package. It might even evolve into a combined I-25/I-70 concept.
But it has to start somewhere, and if Gov. Hickenlooper wants to assert himself as a true visionary, there’s no better time than now. He set the stage in that inaugural speech with these words: “Together, we will continue to build a Colorado not just for our present day use and delight, but a Colorado that gives every Coloradan a fair chance at prosperity, opportunity and joy for the decades to come.”
That sounds like a challenge, including for himself.