By Jeff Cummings
As in the past, the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Future for transportation will reappear at the state Capitol in January as the General Assembly convenes. As in the classic story “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, the specter of Christmas Past will pay a visit and reflect on previous failed legislative sessions where promises were made to address our growing transportation issues that are now moving toward a crisis stage.
The specter of the past will share visions from the prior five years, showing legislators conducting similar debates and hearings, making almost identical speeches and statements, spending endless hours in committee meetings, reviewing innumerable special reports of our transportation needs and financial shortfalls, and considering numerous bills and proposed solutions, only for all of them to be heaped on the bonfire of failure. As in the past, the final act in the play will be legislators placing blame on the other party for the lack of action.
At the same time, the Ghost of Christmas Future will also materialize. Only this time, he will share an even darker future for the state showing even more congested roadways with longer commute times, further deterioration of our roadways and bridges, and more accidents associated with a lack of adequate funding for the infrastructure. The ghost will show a bleak future, 20 years from now, where our state population has grown by 48 percent, overall traffic has risen by 64 percent and traffic delay for the average commute will have increased by 30 minutes.
Can we, like Scrooge, have a happy ending and avoid this dismal future of clogged highways, potholes, deteriorating bridges and the like? The definitive answer is yes, but it will require strong leadership and bold action on the part of both parties in the General Assembly as well as an engaged Governor to forge consensus on a funding measure to go to the voters.
To accomplish this goal, let me offer some suggestions to our legislators.
First, rather than spending hours in meetings discussing whether a transportation problem exists and to what extent, acknowledge one does because the rest of the public knows it. Numerous polls over the years reflect our roadways and bridges as a top concern for voters. The public wants action and answers rather than more analysis on a problem that they deal with daily and one that has already been studied too long.
Second, conduct the discussions and hearings without political posturing while also avoiding politically charged statements, which only create barriers rather than a path to a solution.
Third, spend less time telling us about what is wrong about the opposition’s proposed ideas and their motives and more time seeking common ground and a solution that both parties can buy into.
Fourth, resist the temptation of taking the easy road of another quick, interim fix which may give the appearance of progress but fails to address the longer-term problem. Budget gimmicks and short term infusions of money do little but kick this can down the road for another year.
Fifth, act boldly and craft a proposal that provides a real solution and addresses not only today’s needs but also the demands of the future that will allow for greater mobility for our citizens as well as our businesses to be competitive on a national and international basis. It’s important not to underestimate the public’s understanding of our transportation needs or their willingness to pay more, if needed, to obtain a better and safer transportation system.
Finally, remember that you have been elected as a state representative who’s charge is the best interests of the state. Don’t be swayed by the naysayers nor be too affected by special interest groups or polls. As witnessed in the recent presidential election, the polls aren’t always a good reflection of people’s true feelings.
Much like Scrooge choosing a better future, the Legislature and governor can change the outcome of this story by coming together and crafting a solid transportation package and hopefully avoiding this year’s legislative session being “déjà vu all over again,” as Yogi Berra would say.
Jeff Cummings is president and CEO of Duffy Crane and Hauling, one of Colorado’s oldest companies. He is a past chairman and current director of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, which represents more than 600 companies involved in trucking in Colorado.