John Hazlehurst

John Hazlehurst

On Nov. 8, El Paso County voters will decide whether to extend the 1 percent regional sales tax that funds the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority for another 10 years, sunsetting in 2034. Described by a volunteer support group as “the most important source of funding for major capacity expansions and intersection realignments in El Paso County,” the tax was first approved in 2004 and reauthorized in 2014 with a 79.5 percent majority.

Where does the money go? The support group gives a fulsome and accurate description (take a look on extendpprta.com): “Since its creation by voters in 2004, the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (PPRTA) has become the most important source of funding for major capacity expansions and intersection realignments in El Paso County. PPRTA connects key roads, making it easier to get around, and undertakes other infrastructure projects to ease congestion and keep traffic flowing in the Pikes Peak region.”

Projects range from $72 million to “Construct Powers Blvd from SH 83 (Interquest Parkway) to Voyager Parkway to connect with I-25” to $500K for “Foothills Trail improvements.”

I suspect that a substantial majority of voters will support the tax — I certainly will. Yet I don’t expect that congestion will ease, or that traffic will flow. As a Springs native, I expect that the city will grow and  that there will be more cars, trucks, motorcycles, bikes and pedestrians on the move for the next 10 years. There will be even more sleepy geezers and speeding motorcyclists on the roads, endangering themselves and others. Congestion will likely increase while mobility will decrease. If all goes well, the city will remain prosperous, liveable and optimistic.

We can only hope that the voters don’t succumb to yet another epidemic of anti-tax  Bruceism, and refuse to renew the PPRTA tax. By doing so, they’d essentially create a hot mess for a future John Suthers to deal with. We’d be a city unworthy of our mountains — congested, crowded and increasingly unliveable.

Yet in a time of accelerating climate change and increasing concern about transportation-related emissions, shouldn’t PPRTA put more money into public transit? Does it make sense to invest so much in roads and highways, and make life easy for single-occupancy vehicles? Given that automotive pollution disproportionately affects low-income communities with less automobile ownership and private mobility, are projected funding levels inherently inequitable? Although the Citizens Advisory Committee is tasked with “reviewing the budgets of local government members to make sure that funding from the PPRTA will not be used to substitute for or reduce Colorado Springs’ funding to the existing transit system,” that seems to be a nod to the precarity of any transit system funding.

Yet our city was created to grow, to spread out to the north, south, east and west. It was imagined by Palmer to be what it became — a home for prosperous, educated and cultivated men and women who sought to leave the noisome, polluted cities of the East and Midwest. Polluting industries, massive rail transportation hubs, and manufacturers were better suited to Denver, Pueblo and Colorado City. The Springs would have churches, colleges, opera houses and first-rate public schools. 

That vision remains, but we’re no longer “Newport in the Rockies.” We’re closer to L.A. in the Rockies: sprawling, car-centric and diverse. We make great decisions, bad decisions and somehow muddle through. Sometimes the place infuriates me, but most of the time I’m delighted to be here, have fun and enjoy the day — so let’s be optimistic!

Given the projected growth of vehicle electrification, transportation-generated air pollution in the Pikes Peak region may decline substantially by 2034. It’ll take longer to get up Highway 24, but maybe the roaring growl of thousands of internal combustion engines will be replaced by a quiet electric hum as we cruise along in clear, unpolluted air. Enjoy the trip…

 

John Hazlehurst, whose great-grandfather came to Colorado in 1859, is a Colorado Springs native. He has worked as a reporter/columnist for the Indy since 1997 and the Business Journal since 2006.