Rising Danger, Needed Highway Spending, and Leadership Changes Spell an Uncertain Future
Traveling from home to your Colorado destinations will involve some unforeseen turns and new directions in 2018. Recent trends, however, can give us some insight into what’s ahead. Here’s a cheat sheet on what to expect in transportation and your safety in the coming year.
Busier, More Dangerous Roadways
2017 ended with grim realizations about the increasing threat of driving across town, to the next county or across the state. By Dec. 26, at least 615 people had died from auto accidents on Colorado roadways, according to preliminary data from the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT). That’s more than any year since 2003, and it continues an upward trend that has been building annually since 2011 when 447 died from crashes.
Regrettably, an even higher death tally might occur in 2018. State agencies can do nothing to address two of the major factors contributing to crowded roadways and resulting crashes: Colorado’s population growth and a strong economy.
Officials can temper the death trend, however, by building safer roads, using more public information campaigns and targeted enforcement to reduce the other auto accident contributors: impaired driving, speeding, distracted driving, and failure to use proper seating restraints.
Lame-Duck State Leadership
With nearly three years of control by departed CDOT executive director Shailen Bhatt, Colorado has benefitted from transportation department leadership that could be called the most innovative and energetic in all 50 states. Bhatt, appointed in February 2015, left state government this December, as Gov. John Hickenlooper entered his last year in office, The Denver Post’s Danika Worthington reported. Bhatt’s deputy director Mike Lewis took over as interim director, but he won’t have long to start any new initiatives. A new governor will appoint an executive director in early 2019.
With Hickenlooper’s backing, Bhatt launched a continuing effort to bring a Hyperloop tube shuttle system to Colorado. He sponsored other headline-grabbers such as a driverless, auto-piloted beer delivery truck, another driverless truck that places a moving barricade between highway traffic and road construction crews, and a law allowing developers to test other autopilot cars and trucks on state roads. He built a partnership between CDOT and Panasonic to wire 90 miles of I-70 for interconnected and autopilot vehicles. Bhatt succeeded in opening express lanes on U.S. 36, I-70 and I-25, greatly reducing commute times.
As reported by KCRM TV’s Alexa Mae Asperin, Bhatt’s projects brought national notoriety to the agency with national awards celebrating their use of new technology.
To Spend or Not to Spend on Roads
Colorado lawmakers will face a test of their political will to improve roads, highways, and bridges this year as they answer a call by Hickenlooper to add $148.2 million to CDOT’s budget.
The governor requested the extra money on Jan. 2 after the state forecast an additional $256.5 million in revenue for the 2018 fiscal year, according to Denver Business Journal reporter Ed Sealover.
Hickenlooper’s initial proposed budget called for no increase in transportation spending. That was despite his failed efforts in 2017 to put a tax measure before voters that would have raised billions for road improvements. With the new request, Hickenlooper pointed to the Legislature’s 2017 passage of Senate Bill 267, which allows the state in coming years to spend on transportation $1.9 billion that would have otherwise been returned to taxpayers. Even with the money, the state will fall far short of meeting the $9 billion CDOT says it will need over the next decade. Hickenlooper wrote:
“It’s not often we find ourselves in a position where resources are available to actually go beyond our initial budget request… Education and transportation are grossly underfunded. This new revenue should go to these priorities. We also must acknowledge that we have a long way to go with each for long-term solutions.”
Big Picture: Electric Cars, Greater Safety
Regardless of state influence, 2018 will undoubtedly bring substantial vehicular changes as the automotive industry goes electric, CNN’s Peter Valdes-Dapena reported. Automakers across the spectrum from General Motors to Volvo announced plans to switch to electric drivetrains in both consumer and commercial vehicles. At least seven new electric cars are expected to hit dealership floors this year.
With the trend, consumers can expect to see rapid improvements in crash-avoidance and steering-assistance technologies and, ultimately, full autopilot for your car or truck.