It’s difficult to imagine that any sane person would sit down and read the recently-released Powers Corridor Environmental Assessment for pleasure. It’s a quintessential government document; prepared by planners, engineers and bureaucrats to be read by planners, engineers and bureaucrats.
It only exists because the law requires it. It’s just another brick in the wall, a step on the road to building a road.
Is it a good idea to spend three quarters of a billion dollars on a few miles of congested highway on the city’s eastern perimeter? That’s irrelevant to the authors — what’s important is the process.
Just as you have to defend your thesis to get that PhD, state and local governments have to go through the EA process to qualify for those precious federal transportation dollars. Such processes, impenetrably complex to any but paid participants, shape our future.
Like it or not, $720 million in state and federal funds may be spent to convert a dozen miles of Powers Boulevard into a limited-access freeway. Our county commissioners love the deal — watch ‘em give it their unanimous support.
As the croupier said a century ago, make your bets. The bets are down. Game over.
Too bad you didn’t know the rules, or even that there was a game.
Rule # 1: We can predict the future.
The study is underpinned by predictions of future population, future traffic volumes, the future regional economy, future development patterns, future tax receipts, and future availability of local, state, and federal transportation funding. These predictions are more valid than those that a soothsayer might make by gazing into a crystal ball, but no more valid than an informed guess.
Rule # 2: The future will be just like the past, only more so.
The private automobile will remain the people-mover of choice. Colorado Springs will continue to grow and expand, and that growth and expansion will be to the east. Fort Carson will still be around, as will Schriever and Petersen Air Force Bases. We’ll add 10,000-15,000 new residents every year, many of whom will want to drive, shop or commute on Powers.
Rule # 3: Congestion must be mitigated.
The EA paints a dire picture of 45-minute commutes, cut-through traffic wreaking havoc in peaceful residential neighborhoods and residents who would never abandon their cars for any hypothetical light-rail system. In fact, the EA is absolutely dismissive of such alternatives, noting they would only reduce projected traffic volumes by 3 to 5 percent.
Rule # 4: No black swans for us.
For the siloed professionals who conceive, create and submit documents such as this, there’s little possibility that their calculations could be disastrously in error. They’ve examined the past, looked at the present and scoped out the future. And just as you can stand at the confluence of the Mississippi and the Missouri and predict that water will flow to the Gulf, you can stand at the intersection of Constitution and Powers and see 2035: Sleek, fuel-efficient cars of the future flowing down eight lanes and through 11 grade-separated interchanges.
Maybe …but let’s consider the fate of Maricopa, a once-booming city located between Phoenix and Tucson.
Reporter John Brodesky of the Arizona Daily Star described the city as it is today.
“Once a sleepy farming town with a few hundred people in the middle of nowhere, Maricopa is now an exurb of about 40,000 people in the middle of nowhere. Foreclosures are king in Maricopa. The median sales price has fallen from $260,000 in 2006 to about $110,000. It’s not just one neighborhood, one street, one failed subdivision; it’s entire failed communities … a lunar landscape of unfinished developments where streets dead-end at dirt, playgrounds were built for neighborhoods that don’t exist and vacant model homes sit idle in the dust.”
That wasn’t in the plan, was it?
So let’s ask ourselves a few questions.
Should this project be our No. 1 regional priority? Will spending three quarters of a billion on a few miles of congested highway make this city more beautiful, more attractive to young professionals, more dynamic, prosperous and exciting? Will it turn the parks from brown to green, re-open swimming pools, renovate the city auditorium, fill downtown’s vacant lots with sparkling new buildings, revive our neglected waterways or build a debt-free convention center?
It’s time to sweep away the money silos, and recreate our regional priorities. Projects such as Powers shouldn’t automatically go to the front of the line, but should be obliged to compete for the same, un-segregated pot of funds. Do we want a Powers Freeway, or would we rather spend $730 million on other things?
This isn’t roulette. It’s our decision. Our game. Our rules. Our future.