2009-07-13

Future of the Region Written In Transportation Plans

In the early days of the automobile, a state's commitment to passable roads, also known as highways, varied. The difference of commitment could be so stark at times that a car that passed the border from one state to another went from an all-weather asphalt and concrete roadway to a rutted pit that snarled the tires and reduced travel to a veritable crawl. The U.S. Highway system, and later the Interstate network, eliminated the disparity and altered the method of travel in the United States on a fundamental level from rails and wagons to buses and cars. American culture, its way of life itself changed as a result, all within the period of about 50 years.

Another 50 years before that change started, an American pioneer surveyed a route to Denver for the Kansas Pacific Railroad. That surveyor was General William Palmer. It was no small migration he was a party to, and with this westward focus, Palmer saw a unique opportunity. While routes were strung west and east from the Mississippi River to the Pacific, no one had made a serious endeavor at a north-south connection between these lines. A connection between these routes would open up a new way of passing commerce between the two points. His initial plan was to connect Denver with El Paso, Texas. Eventually, he hoped to reach Mexico City and build trade relationships from there. Additionally, Palmer likely reasoned that the flow westward would eventually stabilize. The west coast was not a bottomless pit; it would eventually fill up and people would fill in. It did, about a century after his journey.

Since the westward expansion, just like water in a miner's pan, people have sloshed about, following the direction of money, prosperity and the hope of a better life and a brighter future. It has been a pursuit of happiness, some lives successful and others not as much. What has stuck, even through the liquidity of economic upheaval, is that people and the directions they travel have a sympathetic relationship. Good sources of revenue in a given location bring better roads. Better roads bring more people, and more people facilitate more good sources of revenue. Conversely, no revenue leads to poor roads. Poor roads leads to fewer people, and fewer people produce even less revenue. Therefore, it stands to reason that proponents of transportation, whatever their motive, ultimately advocate prosperity while naysayers advocate shrinking decline. This is a timeless principle, borne out over centuries of Western Civilization, from Roman roads to the latest commuter rail line. Why then, are naysayers given any credence when they raise the tired dogs of cost and doubt? We listen to them at the risk of our future.

Palmer's baby road was stopped by the snake of the Santa Fe Railway and never crossed Raton Pass on Colorado's southern border with New Mexico. Instead, it's westward wanderings to tap the Rocky Mountains gold and silver deposits to drive the rails further south became an end unto itself, eventually driving all the way to Salt Lake City, Utah. Had the Rio Grande actually reached El Paso, Denver's history and the remainder of the west would have looked far different today. What future will today's transportation efforts bring us? Will Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas be successful in their joint effort to secure the 11th high speed rail corridor for a vision similar to Palmer's ultimately succeed? Let's hope so, for our future's sake.

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Please note that this is indirectly related to the R2C2 efforts by CDOT because it involves part of the same regional railroad structure. This is also not directly related to the Ports-To-Plains DOT Studies.