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Guest Commentary: Colorado can build out of the coronavirus recession with $20 billion for infrastructure

Guest Commentary: Colorado can build out of the coronavirus
recession with $20 billion for infrastructure 1

Colorado, like the rest of the nation, faces a long climb out of the COVID-19 recession. We are grateful to leaders from both major parties for acting swiftly to save as many jobs and businesses as possible. But even under the best of conditions, it will take years to recover what was lost.

As the impact of short-term stimulus fades, we need a long-term recovery strategy — something that inspires confidence in workers, business owners, consumers and investors, confidence that our economy will come back strong and keep getting stronger over the months and years ahead.

Now is the time for major federal investments in infrastructure, to put people back to work and to help recover from decades of underinvestment in the arteries of commerce and gateways to opportunity that make prosperity possible.

We are members of the nonpartisan Colorado Infrastructure Committee, a group formed during the depths of our state’s COVID-19 shutdown. Our coalition includes business and civic leaders, non-profit organizations, local government officials and legislative leaders from throughout Colorado. After careful review, we developed a series of recommendations for Colorado projects and policies should Congress move ahead with a national infrastructure program.

Long before COVID-19, leaders of both major parties acknowledged the need for greater infrastructure investment and expressed support for proposals of up to $2 trillion. The case for a national infrastructure program was strong then and the economic impacts of the pandemic have added a sense of urgency.

With this in mind, we have developed a series of immediate, enduring and equitable investments that will help pull our state out of the recession and make our economy stronger and more resilient in years to come. These recommendations total up to $20.25 billion across five categories.

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Roads, rail, aviation and mass transit ($7.68 billion – $10.98 billion)

Colorado’s economy depends on trade and tourism, which means the efficient movement of people and goods is paramount. This becomes increasingly difficult every year due to poor infrastructure. We have identified high-impact projects that will benefit motorists, transit riders, cyclists, airport travelers and businesses – starting with full funding of the CDOT’s 10-year plan.

Water infrastructure ($3 billion)

Responsible use of Colorado’s water will be critical to economic growth and our standard of living in the decades to come. Our recommendations prioritize community needs for drinking water, water treatment, agricultural infrastructure upgrades, recycled water, green infrastructure, and river health.

Energy and environment ($3.6 billion)

Colorado’s natural environment is a critical economic engine, fueling our tourism and outdoor industries. We recommend projects and programs that will tackle the backlog of public-lands infrastructure projects, expand our state park system, make unprecedented progress in addressing the threat of wildfires, and help prepare for the expansion of clean energy on the power grid.

Local commerce and communications ($770 million)

Remote learning, telehealth, public safety, telecommuting, e-commerce and entertainment all depend on the ability to send and retrieve data securely at high speeds. Working with Colorado’s existing Broadband Fund, the federal government can help to close the digital divide for unserved and underserved households and businesses, both in rural Colorado and in cities that lack fast, affordable and reliable service.

Education Infrastructure ($1.85 billion)

We are proposing a major program of construction debt relief, investments in remote learning equipment and teacher training, and new construction and renovation projects across K-12 public schools and the higher education sector.

Investments like these are badly needed in Colorado. Hundreds of thousands of people in our state need jobs and the training to perform those jobs — now and over the long haul. And infrastructure is a wise investment. According to the Business Roundtable, infrastructure “pays for itself several times over” by increasing the efficiency of the economy and helping it grow faster.

Imagine how many more families, businesses and communities can prosper in Colorado if our infrastructure promotes innovation and growth, instead of blocking it. For too many years, we have fallen short of our potential as a state. Now, if the federal government is prepared to be a willing partner, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reach our potential.

Together we can build — in every sense of that word — a stronger future for our state.

Jandel Allen-Davis is the president and CEO of Craig Hospital and Mike Kopp is the president and CEO of Colorado Concern. They are two of the 25 co-chairs of Colorado Concern’s bipartisan Colorado Infrastructure Committee.

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