We hear a lot of talk about Colorado's importance to the national political scene, not only as a swing state in the 2012 presidential election but also in helping shape the congressional outcome and setting an example for economic recovery.
It makes sense, and you'd think that reality would help Colorado in other ways, such as when federal agencies decide how to apportion special grant money.
But it's not guaranteed.
Just before Christmas, on the state's third try, Colorado did succeed in receiving a chunk of the latest "Race to the Top" education grants, in this case $17.9 million to help in revamping state standards and evaluating educators. That's a consolation prize — Colorado had hoped for much more, applying for but failing to win federal grants of $175 million and then $60 million.
About the same time, our state lost again on a different front as the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded its latest TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grants totaling more than $500 million for projects in 33 states.
Not a dime of that is coming to Colorado, the second year in a row for DOT to ignore this state. (For the record, the TIGER outcome also snubbed Nebraska, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Nevada).
Southern Colorado had two projects in the mix, both ignored. One would have improved Interstate 25's Eden interchange (Exit 104), which has become an increasingly popular route (I know, having used it) for access to and from the fast-growing area of Pueblo West.
The other one, in Colorado Springs, would've created an interchange on Powers Boulevard for traffic in and out of Peterson Air Force Base. The detailed application, showing how much of a positive impact the interchange would have, seemed appealing. Among other factors (helping military), it's an open and fairly flat area, with nearly 100 percent of the right-of-way already secured.
We could have a separate debate over the larger need — widening I-25, especially from the north edge of Colorado Springs to Castle Rock, still just two lanes each way. Also, replacing the amazingly outdated I-25 interchange for U.S. Highway 24 west (Cimarron Street), considered a top priority by local traffic planners since the early 1970s. That's right, 40 years ago.
Granted, that Powers-Peterson interchange would fulfill one of our many needs. And as for down south, it's safe to say that the rebuilding of I-25 through Pueblo has a better place in line (after the major work done through Colorado Springs during the past decade).
So who's at fault? Some point fingers at Colorado's congressional delegation for not helping more. But then again, considering the anti-earmark sentiment these days toward Congress, it would seem a bit hypocritical to blame Rep. Doug Lamborn for the local project being shunned, or Rep. Scott Tipton for the Pueblo-Eden plan losing its chance for federal help. I asked Lamborn's office if he wanted to respond for this, and he did not comment.
There is another way to look at this. Maybe the time has come to pay for more ourselves, instead of waiting for the feds or the state.
Given the success of our Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, which has funded plenty of much-needed local road projects since voters approved it in 2004, perhaps the next round of PPRTA work should become even more ambitious. There has been talk of a possible November 2012 ballot issue, continuing the sales tax that could speed up other much-needed improvements. Regardless, it would not be smart to wait until the last minute before the first PPRTA funding ends in 2014. We don't need to have that money lapse.
Even with some major projects that would have widespread public support, renewing PPRTA won't be a slam-dunk. That's because one factor in the 2004 vote was that approval would mean more money and better service for local transit — yet Colorado Springs later reneged, severely chopping its portion of funding for buses, leading to serious reductions in routes and service.
As easy as it might be to suggest that congressmen could've changed this outcome, the reality is that they probably couldn't. And no matter how influential we might think Colorado is, perhaps that's an exaggeration as well.