According to a recent statewide report, during the next 25 years Colorado Springs should spend an additional $15 million on its transit system to keep up with the growing population and enhance local tourism, health and economic growth.
Colleen McLoughlin, campaign associate for the Colorado Public Interest Research Group Foundation, shared results from CoPIRG’s yearlong study Oct. 25 at the downtown Transit Depot. CoPIRG is a consumer protection and public advocacy group that works to raise awareness and education on issues including toy and product safety, political corruption and health care.
McLoughlin said the spending increase would bring Colorado Springs’ transit system up to a “low investment” level, while $71 million a year would bring it to a “medium investment” level compared with other cities across the state.
“Colorado Springs is the second-largest metropolitan area in Colorado, yet its per capita funding for transit is 30 percent less than Pueblo, 50 percent less than Fort Collins and 80 percent less Denver,” she said.
While the Denver area alone spends $4 billion a year on transportation, Colorado Springs spends $17.5 million annually to operate its system, serving 560,000 people and 3 million trips, according to the report.
“Transit, biking and walking are critical components of our transportation system,” McLoughlin said. “The more you invest in transit, the more exponential transit ridership will increase. We need to conduct the same level of analysis for identifying funding gaps for transit, biking and walking as we do for highways [and] roads and bring them to a level playing field.”
The Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments identified 68 bicycle corridors in its 2040 Regional Non-Motorized Plan and prioritized 11 based on mobility, connectivity, livability and deliverability of each.
Colorado Springs’ top priority should be to improve transit services to local medical facilities, McLoughlin said.
“Right now they’re all in the northeast region and there are no transit stops within two miles of those facilities,” she said. “That’s a huge gap that needs to be filled.”
Other priorities include adding shuttles on military installations and expanding Bustang bus service along Interstate 25 to Denver.
“Every time we see a community significantly invest in transit, biking and walking, tourism and spending increase because people are able to get to businesses,” McLoughlin said.
McLoughlin acknowledged some recent local improvements, such as two of the three main bus lines in Colorado Springs increasing frequency from every 60 minutes to every 15 minutes.
“The third [bus line] is well on its way to do so in 2017 and a new downtown transit terminal is also in the planning phases,” she said. “Colorado Springs has identified a set of improvements to bus service, with a cost of $13.8 million per year.”
But for decades Colorado has been severely underfunded, resulting in 6,000 miles of needed sidewalks in urbanized areas across the state, according to the report. It suggested Colorado should invest a little more than $1 billion annually during the next 25 years to see significant improvements in transit, biking and walking.
“This has led to communities lacking the biking infrastructure that cyclists need to get from Point A to Point B safely,” she said. “We’re not saying there is a silver-bullet solution to where this money is going to come from to adequately fund transit, biking and walking statewide, but there are several policy changes that could be made that would chip away at these needs.”
Other transit options include adding commuter and high-speed rails, however, those would be costly investments.
CoPIRG found that a commuter rail across all of Interstate 25 would amount to roughly $112 million a year to operate; a high-speed rail would cost $2 billion annually.
“As convenient as a high-speed rail would be, we didn’t include that in our $1 billon a year,” McLoughlin said. “We didn’t include a commuter rail because we found that a bus service can take twice as many passengers at a quarter of the cost.”
Why else should Colorado invest in further funding for transit, biking and walking?
Because of its rising population, McLoughlin said.
“An additional 2.4 million people are expected to move to Colorado by 2040. We simply can’t afford all of those people to bring cars with them. The roads are already congested and we can’t afford to keep adding more parking spaces in our cities,” she said.
For biking infrastructure, the report said the state should expand its bike share programs and add regional bike connections like the U.S. Highway 36 bikeway between Denver and Boulder, making shoulders on rural highways safer for cyclists.
To do, so it would cost Colorado almost $230 million a year.
“Households can actually cut their … transportation costs in half if they live in a community where they can reduce the number of cars they own by one,” McLoughlin said. “There are also multiple health benefits to biking, walking and public transit such as reducing stress, increasing exercise and combatting the rising levels of obesity in Colorado.”
Regarding pedestrian infrastructure, the report said Colorado should invest more than $243 million annually for the next 25 years.
“What that will do is build those 6,000 miles of missing sidewalks and repair 8,600 miles of broken or inadequate sidewalks across the state,” McLoughlin said.
Colorado Springs was CoPIRG’s eighth stop of nine across the state to highlight the need for more transit, walking and biking infrastructure investments.
“The only fixed amount of state funding that goes to transit is $15 million per year,” McLoughlin said. “To put that in perspective, the state spends $69 million annually on snow removal alone. When you talk about Colorado on a national scale in terms of state funding for transit, biking and walking, we are extremely low and that needs to change.”