Michael Bennet: Colorado driving innovative infrastructure ideas | CraigDailyPress.com

Michael Bennet: Colorado driving innovative infrastructure ideas

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet

Colorado's economy relies on its workers' ability to safely get to their jobs and send their kids to school. It needs businesses to have the ability to efficiently ship their products to market. It requires safe and sanitary water and sewer systems, as well as energy grids that can handle increasing demands.

Across the state, our communities are finding ways to build innovative infrastructure to ensure we remain competitive. We had the opportunity to learn more about several of these projects on our Infrastructure Colorado: Planes, Trains, Automobiles and More tour last month. The tour highlighted many of our state's infrastructure projects that are helping drive our economy forward. We spoke with leaders in local communities about their current needs and the types of investments it will take to build better roads, railways, dams, utility grids and airports for the next generation.

We kicked off our tour with a mobile townhall on RTD's recently completed West Line to Golden where we met with transit, civic and business leaders. They emphasized the vital link between these types of transit projects and robust economic development in the region. We also joined Denver Mayor Michael Hancock for a glimpse of the development plans for Denver International Airport and had the chance to see the amazing work CDOT is doing on the Twin Tunnels expansion. In Fort Collins, we rode the newly completed MAX Rapid Transit bus that's connecting commuters to Midtown, Colorado State University and Old Town, and we met with community leaders in Loveland to discuss the importance of long-term transportation planning and investment in Northern Colorado.

These types of innovative projects aren't limited to the Front Range.

In the Roaring Fork Valley we met with folks on the VelociRFTA Bus Rapid Transit system — the first rural bus rapid transit system in the nation. We talked with Union Pacific engineers on our coal train ride from Dotsero to Glenwood Springs about their vision for future growth and toured the Red Cliff water treatment plant. In Pueblo, we had the opportunity to visit Transportation Technology Center Inc. — a world class research facility that's developing cutting-edge safety technology for the nation's railroad industry.

At each of these stops, local leaders made it clear that there is a critical need for funding certainty from the federal government. Congress' failure to pass long-term highway, transit and other infrastructure bills leaves local communities guessing about what kind of support and resources — if any — will be available as they work to maintain and upgrade roads, water and sewer systems, and transit stations.

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Coloradans continue to find collaborative ways to finance forward-looking infrastructure projects across the state, all while Washington, D.C., continues to kick the can down the road. In typical fashion, Congress has managed to "keep the lights on" for another couple of months by passing a short-term extension for the Highway Trust Fund, which was just days away from insolvency. The extension is set to expire in May, putting us right back in the same predicament early next year and leaving state and local transportation departments unable to plan. Despite Colorado's successes, without a predictable infrastructure plan from Congress we won't be able to continue to build, or even maintain the infrastructure we need to be safe and to compete in today's economy.