Gridlock ’09 |

Gridlock ’09

Just when you thought it was safe to get back on Highway 82, the Colorado Department of Transportation warns of pending gridlock. They’re not talking decades; they’re talking 2009. That’s next year!

Commuters have long been hoping that the four-lane from Glenwood to Buttermilk, when finally rammed into Aspen, would alleviate traffic snarls. Now they discover that ongoing land development throughout the valley will soon obviate those gains.

As monster homes rise, subdivisions with ranch and wildlife names spread over the landscape, and golf courses proliferate in Baby Boomer theme parks, we are suddenly aware that there are limits. We’re suffocating in our own affluence, and traffic jams are the first sign of overbuilding.

So what’s to be done? Do valley commuters simply endure gridlock, road rage and a prescription for Prozac? Or is there a solution that can make life tolerable for those condemned to the ribbon of death? Dick Prosence, a former highway engineer and long-time advocate for four-laning 82, recommends expanding highway capacity.

That’s a plumber’s logic, where the volume of the valley’s pipeline should meet the flow of traffic. The problem is that the flow is always increasing and the costs of an ever-expanding pipeline are enormous, financially and environmentally.

There’s a different approach that could be implemented immediately: It’s called growth control. With gridlock looming in the very near future, there is no better rationale to seriously limit growth. If there has ever been a time to “just say no” to developers, it is now. The question is: Do we have the political will to rein in growth, and can we do it valley-wide?

This challenge falls to elected officials who must consider the wishes of their constituents. Can there be any voters in the valley who desire highway gridlock? How many votes are there for more and bigger traffic jams? More congestion? More pollution? More stoplights? More sprawl? More, more, more …?

Added capacity on Highway 82 is a recipe for total urbanization, which most residents say they don’t want. Assuming that local governments have the authority to regulate growth in order to protect the quality of life of their constituents, it’s logical that they restrict development.

The first step is defining a valley-wide vision for the future. Instead of localized decisions that often work at cross-purposes with one another, we need consensus on how to address growth regionally. The first point of agreement ” a no-brainer ” is that gridlock in 2009 is the wrong direction for healthy communities.

Once there is consensus against gridlock and against the growth rates causing it, then it is incumbent on local governments to act together to stop it. This calls for a build-out strategy that can save this valley from self-destruction.

Developers have got to be part of that process because their vested self-interests demand it. Surely, even the most greed-driven, rapacious developer must see that urban ills are a detriment to strong property values. Killing the goose that lays the golden eggs would be terminally myopic.

Growth restrictions for the good of the valley would be a win for developers, even if their only motivation is money. Limit supply and drive up the prices; that’s the tried and true method of escalating property values.

Ideally, higher sentiments prevail among the broader populace, like concerns for air quality, elk and deer, natural beauty, a slower pace, reasonable limits to the valley’s carrying capacity, and a legacy of vision and action. Gridlock 2009 should be unacceptable, and so should a six-lane highway.

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