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After the Colorado General Assembly adjourned its 2017 session last week, partisan groups tried to spin their post-mortem analyses in typical ways.
Many on both sides were glad to see a solution to the hospital provider fee that made the state budget easier to balance. And at least the lawmakers agreed on a way to start putting extra money into roads and bridges.
But the issue that most affects this area — finally widening Interstate 25 from Monument to Castle Rock — remains unresolved. The much-touted, bipartisan idea of asking voters in November for a statewide sales tax increase to improve the transportation infrastructure passed the state House but couldn't make it through the Senate, where Republicans stopped it.
In the end, a compromise fell into place but only for $1.1 billion over 20 years, less than one-third of the $3.5 billion initially pushed by leaders of both parties. As the legislators headed home, Gov. John Hickenlooper threatened to call them back for a special session — for that and other items. But the odds of a Senate reversal were unlikely, and this week dawned with the governor still undecided.
So where do the improvements on I-25 — and Interstate 70, for that matter — stand now? Nobody knows for sure. Legislative sources say the I-25 widening is among the state's "Tier 1" priorities, but so are other projects, all based on the $3.5 billion concept, and they aren't in any particular order. Rocky Scott, this region's member of the Colorado Transportation Commission, said that group will meet later this week to assess the situation — but he added that no money will begin flowing until summer 2018, regardless.
Scott, though a helpful ally, can only do so much. There's nobody to lead this area's fight on a 24/7 level, though we have a well-paid position that could/should/would give us that champion — executive director of the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments. But that job has been vacant since Rob MacDonald was fired in January, and PPACG's board hasn't found a worthy replacement.
That search does not have to continue. We have the perfect person for that role, in our midst and available.
Sallie Clark, fresh from nearly five months of a "break" after finishing her last term as a county commissioner, would be the perfect fit. Clark, far from done at 57, is supremely connected and knows the political game and its key operatives from here to Denver and D.C. Having spent years on PPACG's board, she'd instinctively know how to go about cleaning up and redirecting the staff, resetting the region's strategies for transportation and other issues with input from member communities, and stepping up as a prominent, forceful leader — and warrior, if needed — in pushing our interests, rights and concerns.
Clark could do all that for the rest of her working career — or she could make it a short-term mission for two or three years, adding to her considerable political credentials and positioning her for a final challenge at the state or national level.
With a familiar presence like Clark leading and redefining the PPACG, parlaying our best resources and influences, we could get that I-25 widening project and more on the calendar, funded and started sooner than many might expect. She also could raise the chances for funding to address other needs, from enhancing U.S. 24 west of I-25 to putting more focus on fire prevention and mitigation, and perhaps laying the framework for Front Range commuter train service.
That's a full plate, to be sure, yet there's nothing more frustrating than having one of our region's best political players on the sidelines with such an ideal opportunity there for the taking. She never got all the credit she deserved for doggedly pursuing, and securing, various forms of government assistance after the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires of 2012-13.
Clark was the region's champion then, and now the door is open for her to jump back onstage and make a lasting difference, working behind the scenes and in the spotlight. She'd be equally at home pushing our interests in the Legislature or with Congress.
Yes, this means elected local leaders across the region agreeing on Clark as the immediate answer to PPACG's serious need. And though she hasn't applied for the position, she'd be crazy not to respond if approached.
It also sounds too simple, too good to be true.
So why not make it happen?