Colorado Leading the U.S. on Transportation Planning, Greenhouse Gas Reduction Standards as Polis Administration Adopts New Standards for Colorado and regional transportation plans

News Release

December 16, 2021 - Statewide News -Colorado Transportation Commission votes to approve standards as part of CDOT transportation planning rules

STATEWIDE - Colorado is the first state in the country to address the role of transportation planning in providing more travel options that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, improve air quality and reduce smog. The adoption today of an updated transportation planning standard implements a key provision of Colorado Senate Bill 21-260, which provides new, long-term transportation funding for Colorado along with a number of measures to improve air quality and address the impacts of climate change in the transportation sector, which is now the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions in Colorado and nationwide. 

The Colorado Transportation Commission approved the standard as part of the Department of Transportation’s planning rules, which govern the process for choosing future transportation construction projects. The standard requires CDOT and the state’s five Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) to determine the total GHG emissions expected from future transportation projects, holding government agencies accountable for the planning decisions that they make and the choices those decisions provide to consumers.  This policy recognizes that the transportation projects that public agencies build have an impact on how Coloradans travel and will result in more choices for travelers across the state.  

Long before a transportation project is built, it is first identified in plans developed with local public input. These plans often include a decade or more of projects and thus represent a short- and medium-term vision for coming changes. CDOT’s current 10-year plan can be found here.  By considering air quality impacts at this early stage of development, agencies can more holistically, and efficiently, consider how those projects fit into the built environments and surrounding communities—before the discussion turns to the technical details of project development. 

“Transportation is the number one source of greenhouse gas pollution. The urgency of tackling climate action is real and inaction is not an option as we confront the reality of extreme events like devastating wildfires, floods, and droughts becoming more frequent and air that is dangerous to breathe becoming the norm. Colorado’s Pollution Reduction Planning Standards hold the public agencies that make choices about what to build and how accountable for the options that we provide to Coloradans who rely on our multimodal systems each and every day,” said CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew.  “We need to lead by example.” 

This approach supports the planning and delivery of innovations that have proven successful in improving quality of life and air quality, such as adding sidewalks, enhancing downtowns for active transportation with “complete streets,” improving local and intercity transit and first-and-last-mile connectivity to transit facilities, and adding bike-shares. 

The planning standard is expected to generate billions in economic benefits for both members of the general public and for Colorado businesses. Implementation of the rule will also reduce economic costs associated with carbon emissions, air pollution, motor vehicle crashes, and the health consequences of physical inactivity. Travelers will benefit from reductions in vehicle operating costs as a result of expanded travel options (such as transit service, tele-commuting, walking and bicycling), travel time savings, and the need to use personal vehicles less thanks to more travel options. Businesses are also expected to benefit from congestion reduction that saves travel time for “on-the-clock” business travel, reduced health care costs for employees as a result of reduced air pollution, motor vehicle crashes, and physical inactivity. They may also experience increased worker retention and satisfaction as a result of employees having expanded commute or work from home options. 

“The Transportation Commission considered numerous hours of comments at public hearings conducted all around the state, and reviewed several thousand pages of detailed written input as they developed the final rule adopted today,” said Transportation Commissioner Lisa Tormoen Hickey, who served as the chair of the commission’s ad-hoc committee that oversaw all work on the rule. “We are pleased to have adopted a rule which will continue our collaborative transportation planning process while we work together to build a more sophisticated transportation system based on modern transportation planning tools. The rule will increase access to efficient and safe travel options as Colorado continues to grow, while recognizing the climate impacts of the transportation sector.  Most importantly, we have recognized that economic vitality depends on a stable and healthy environment, which has always been a hallmark of the Colorado way of life.”

The proposed Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Planning Standard builds on and complements the state’s efforts to rapidly expand electric vehicles by also addressing the transportation infrastructure itself to better support clean transportation. This two-pronged strategy delivers on a commitment in the Colorado Greenhouse Gas Roadmap and implements a key provision of the state’s landmark transportation legislation, SB-260, which requires a number of steps to embed air quality and equity analysis and goals into transportation planning.

Several local officials and advocates from across the state made comments at the beginning of today’s meeting of the Transportation Commission, which is available at this Youtube link. Additional statements are available here:

Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock: “Denver supports ambitious, economy-wide GHG reductions to achieve the science-based 2030 climate goals for transportation in Governor Polis’ Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap. This rule will result in more transit, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure throughout Denver and Colorado, and reflects the diversity of transportation needs throughout the state and allows for regionally-appropriate mitigation measures.”

Senator Faith Winter, Transportation & Energy Committee Chair: “This rule sets a national precedent showing what is possible when we come together and decide that we can improve our transportation infrastructure and address the climate emergency. The transportation commission and CDOT have done a tremendous job, having spent hours and hours hearing testimony, making sure testimony was accessible and updating the rule as new ideas and concerns came up. There are clear, measurable and enforceable goals for 2025, 2030, 2040 and 2050, and I look forward to continuing to work with the commission on ensuring that environmental justice is centered in future decision making and as the ten year plan is updated.”

Clear Creek County Commissioner Randy Wheelock, I-70 Collaborative Effort Co-Chair: “For years now, CDOT and the legislature have made an unprecedented outreach effort to every corner and community of the state to see and hear our stories.  They incorporated them first into the current 10 Year Plan, then SB-260’s largest Colorado funding measure in 30 years, and now this historic attack on GHGs and their effect on our lands, people and economy.

“Their 20-year collaboration with us in the I-70 Mountain Corridor has led to a robust Context Sensitive Design process, and now to the impending launch of Pegasus: an expansion of their long-range highway transit fleet into light, fast, nimble vehicles which should reduce congestion, travel time, energy consumption and emissions per passenger mile, increase travel options and be sooner renewably powered.  That combination of versatility and speed will encourage even faster expansion of travel options everywhere.  It is only one example of the innovation needed to bring effective multimodal options to urban and rural communities alike, so that we all are contributing to and benefiting from this historic effort.”