Commentary: A business-friendly plan to confront some of Colorado’s greatest challenges 

Commentary: A business-friendly plan to confront some of Colorado’s greatest challenges 

The following commentary was written by Kelley Trombley, senior manager of state policy at Ceres. See our commentary guidelines for more information.

With housing prices skyrocketing, far too many Colorado workers can’t afford homes. Traffic, already slowing down commutes and deliveries, is getting worse. And a warming planet is already hurting iconic Colorado industries, from farmlands to mountaintops. 

These are some of the major challenges keeping the state’s business leaders up at night — a sort of three-legged crisis with each individual prong presenting a real threat to the state’s economy. 

Make no mistake: Colorado is a great place to live and work. The state’s population growth in recent years is proof of its allure. But growing economies risk falling victim to their own success, as new challenges threaten to limit further growth. Right now, you can find those exact types of challenges in the housing market and on the roads. 

Home prices across the state have spiked by about 50% over the last five years, making it increasingly difficult for young workers and families to stick around at a time when the state’s workforce is rapidly aging. Meanwhile, around Denver, commuters now spend 54 hours a year stuck in traffic, making it the 17th most congested city in the country and slowing down workers, vendors, and really anybody who needs to get anywhere. 

Even more challenging: these problems risk building upon one another. If the only affordable places to live are further and further away from the places where people tend to work, that means people must drive even more. More traffic means slower commutes, delayed deliveries, and a less productive economy. 

And more traffic — as well as sprawling housing development that has greater energy needs — also means more pollution, which in turn causes the climate to warm. That is no longer a distant risk: Colorado’s mountain resorts, breweries, and other companies have repeatedly sounded the alarm about the impacts from climate change on their businesses and the broader economy. 

The good news is that for such a complex and interwoven set of challenges, there is a simple and low-cost solution that could go a long way toward resolving them — and it’s in front of state lawmakers as we speak. HB1313 would make it easier to put housing where people drive the least by removing burdensome red tape that makes it more difficult to build near public transit. As part of the legislation, cities, towns, and counties would gain access to new affordable housing tax credits and infrastructure grants to support the new development. 

Just judging by how hard it is to get it, there is plenty of demand to live near transit and jobs. Housing builders want to make more homes there but are restricted by regulations that limit how much housing can go anywhere. If those restrictions are softened, it’s all but certain that more housing will be built to meet that growing demand and ensure people can afford to live closer to work. And when people live closer to transit, they drive less because they have other options to get around — meaning less traffic and less pollution. Moreover, HB1313 would come at a time when the federal government has significantly increased infrastructure spending, which would help the state improve transit options to further bolster this policy. 

Like I said, it’s a simple change — but one with profound effects for taking on that three-headed monster of housing, transportation, and climate risks. In fact, if passed, this legislation will cut down on household driving by an estimated 13%, reduce climate-warming pollution by 8%, and have major positive impacts on land conservation and building energy usage. 

With public policy to unlock housing development near where people want to live, Colorado can make real progress against the housing and transportation challenges that are confronting so many American cities right now, while further brandishing its role as a leader in the fight against climate change. Since each of these challenges tends to get worse the longer it goes unaddressed, it is critical that action be taken quickly soon. I strongly encourage Colorado lawmakers to pass HB1313 this spring to ensure another generation of growth for the state and its key industries while protecting the resources that have made it so attractive to so many. 

Commentary: A business-friendly plan to confront some of Colorado’s greatest challenges  is an article from Energy News Network, a nonprofit news service covering the clean energy transition. If you would like to support us please make a donation.

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