Category Archives: Economy

Congestion pricing in the Mountain West?

The debate on how to improve the traffic situation on I-70 from Denver into the mountains continues in the Senate Transportation Committee meeting room today as bills from opposite sides of the legislative aisle get consideration.

Although the two bills are sponsored by Sens. Chris Romer, D-Denver, and Andy McElhany, R-Colorado Springs, it is worth noting that they are both proposing road or congestion pricing for the I-70 corridor. They disagree on the details of how such a framework would operate and how revenues might be re-invested, but the foundation of their proposals seem to cross political ideology — use market forces to manage an increasingly scare resource (otherwise known as road capacity).

There may be a number of reasons these proposals are on the committee table now rather than after groups such as the I-70 Coalition have made their recommendations, but that’s a reality of the legislative process. Nevertheless, the combination of successful congestion pricing programs in London and Stockholm and the proposals for similar programs in New York City and San Francisco make the idea a powerful one that will likely become a part of the package for I-70 regardless of the outcome of the Romer and McElhany bills this year.

The reality of decreasing transportation funding from gas taxes, increasing construction costs, and limited geography is making congestion pricing an increasingly viable tool to manage traffic and congestion in communities and on highways.

As Gordon Price, transportation Planner and former City Councilor in Vancouver, has commented, “congestion turns out to be an inevitable consequence when the private sector produces and unlimited number of vehicles and expects the public sector to spend limited resources to build an unlimited amount of space for them to run on.”

Put another way, the age of “freeways” is drawing to a close in the Mountain West.


Economies collide with nature

The natural resource based economy that dominated the Western Slope of Colorado for so many years is making a come back.moly mine - assoc. press pic

As Jason Blevins writes in the Sunday Denver Post, mining is coming back to a number of communities due to increasing demand and prices for precious minerals like molybdenum.

If the recent natural gas boom in Garfield County offers any crystal ball, more Western Slope communities are due increasing revenues, stressed infrastructure, a quick disappearance of affordable housing, and a shortage of workers.

The natural amenity and natural resource economy are colliding and the only thing they have in common is a reliance on nature.

RTD looks to private partners to complete FasTracks

Rising construction costs and lower-than-projected sales-tax revenues have the The Regional Transportation District (RTD) in Denver seeking federal support for a plan to contract with private firms to finance, design, build, operate and maintain as many as four commuter rail lines. The north metro, northwest, Gold and DIA rail lines will cost more than $2 billion.

RTD applied late last month to join the Federal Transit Administration’s public-private partnership pilot program, which promotes more extensive links between public transit agencies and private businesses.

Read the full article . . .

Text version of FTA Public-Private Partnership Program

Lack of housing for middle income workers growing concern

The Grand River Medical Center, based in Rifle, recently told the Garfield County commissioners that employees are leaving because they can’t find a place to live or rent, and that could affect the organization’s ability to provide quality care.

The district, which employs 300 people in the Grand River Medical Center and E. Dene Moore Nursing Home, has between a 5 and 15 percent vacancy rate at a given time, Human Resources Director Michael Weerts said.

“I have to hire temporary employees who travel 100 miles each way each day,” because of the housing problems, he said.

He called on the commissioners “to look at borderline outrageous solutions” to the housing problem in the valley, “because we have an outrageous housing problem.”

Read the full article . . .

Housing prices continue upward

The national housing market may be stagnant, but housing in the mountains continues on an upward trajectory. According to a recent article in the Aspen Times, the average price for a three-bedroom home jumped, often substainally, throughout the region in 2006.

Basalt: $694,880 (up 21%)

Carbondale: $476,000 (up 4%)

Glenwood Springs: $383,932 (up 21%)

Rifle: $231,851 (up 14%)

The median income for a four person household in Garfield County was $62,300 in 2005.

Garfield County joins billionaires club

Garfield County joined the billionaires club in 2006 as the volume of all real estate sales in the county topped $1 billion for the first time last year. The $1.04 billion in total sales for 2006 was an increase of 22 percent over the 2005 mark and growth of 137 percent from 2003.

The oil and gas boom in western Garfield County is driving the real estate development boom in western Garfield County. An estimated $75 million of the $1 billion in commercial and residential sales in Garfield County occurred in Rifle last year.

Meanwhile, Pitkin County has remained above the $1 billion level in annual sales volume for each of the last four years. Sales volume topped $2 billion in 2005 and soared to $2.64 billion last year.

Read Scott Condon’s full article …

Win-Win transportation solutions

Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute has just released a report on transportation programs and policy reforms that can support environmental, social, and economic goals – a triple bottom line. As he comments in the introduction,

People often assume that environmental, social and economic goals conflict. For example, policies to reduce climate change emissions and programs to improve accessibility for disadvantaged people are often opposed on grounds that they are costly and harmful to the economy. But such conflicts can be avoided. Some strategies that support environmental and social objectives also benefit the economy.

This paper identifies more than a dozen such strategies, which we call Win-Win Transportation Solutions. These are cost-effective, technically feasible policy reforms and programs that help solve transport problems by improving transport options and correcting market distortions that result in economically excessive motor vehicle travel. These are considered “no regrets” strategies because they are justified even if the severity of environmental and social risks is uncertain.

Read the full report . . .