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ARCHIVED  July 1, 1997

Motor vehicles reveal wealth

If you get the feeling that Northern Colorado roads are more congested and that your morning drive to the office is taking longer and longer, you are not alone. Literally.

Motor-vehicle registrations in Colorado climbed to a record 47,300 in April, a good indicator that the state’s economy is moving along at high speed and set on cruise control. And, while there may be some curves in the road ahead, the 1st Choice Bank/Northern Colorado Business Report Leading Economic Indicators found no gaping potholes along Colorado’s Economic Superhighway.

April’s record figure marks an increase of 61 percent over the fewer than 30,000 vehicles registered during April 1991, six short years ago. More startling is the fact that 54 percent of that increase came in only the past 24 months.

The extra vehicles are adding more than traffic to Colorado roads; they are adding much needed dollars to the state’s tax coffers.

“More vehicles translates into more people using more gasoline,´ said Tom Talmadge, chief financial officer for the Colorado Department of Transportation. “That means stronger growth in our highway-user-tax revenues than originally might have been projected.”

But, Talmadge added, it is a bittersweet situation.

“Those additional vehicles also add congestion and deterioration to our highways, and increase the cost of maintenance,” Talmadge said. “Now, we get those calls from folks who say, ‘Gee, this trip used to take 15 minutes; now it takes half an hour.'”

The good news is that the increased congestion is not being caused wholly by new residents flooding into Colorado and onto its roads; it may just be that you and your prosperous neighbors are now traveling more frequently for pleasure, often in an additional vehicle.

“Travel is tied directly to the amount of discretionary income people have available,” Talmadge said. “In a strong economy like Colorado’s, people hop in the car more often and travel further to go skiing, go to the mountains, go on a picnic.”

Figures support Talmadge’s analysis that greater highway use is a direct result of economic health. From 1987 through 1996, Colorado’s population grew 14.8 percent. During the same period, vehicle miles traveled — one vehicle traveling one mile — grew 31 percent.

A lot of those miles are being added by trucks transporting goods within the state to feed its expanded population and maintain economic health. That is especially true in Northern Colorado.

“There is an explosion of population in Fort Collins, Greeley, Loveland,” Talmadge said. “But Larimer and Weld counties are agricultural areas. As population increases, so do the number of delivery trucks on the farm-to-market routes.”

Currently, the department spends $106 million annually to keep Colorado’s 9,000 miles of roads in good condition. That is a lot, but still only a fraction of what it would cost to replace a highway system allowed to fall into serious disrepair. Maintaining roads during a period of increasing commercial truck use does pose new problems in the constant battle to keep up with the potholes.

“One 80,000-pound commercial vehicle, the approximate weight of a loaded semi trailer, causes the same roadway deterioration as 9,600-passenger vehicles,” Talmadge said.

As for congestion, the Department of Transportation is seeking solutions more innovative that construction of new roads or the widening of existing highways.

“We can’t build our way out of congestion,” Tieman said.

The dilemma posed by Northern Colorado’s continuing economic health is that it may take a litle longer than before to get where we ware going. But, when you consider the problems caused by slow growth, it may be best to just sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.

If you get the feeling that Northern Colorado roads are more congested and that your morning drive to the office is taking longer and longer, you are not alone. Literally.

Motor-vehicle registrations in Colorado climbed to a record 47,300 in April, a good indicator that the state’s economy is moving along at high speed and set on cruise control. And, while there may be some curves in the road ahead, the 1st Choice Bank/Northern Colorado Business Report Leading Economic Indicators found no gaping potholes along Colorado’s Economic Superhighway.

April’s record figure marks an increase of 61 percent over the fewer than 30,000…

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