Shovel-ready. Short-term. Job-producing. Green.
Those elements describe the features of President-elect Barack Obama's "green stimulus" package, the contemplated $700 billion spending spree to help jump-start the economy as well as reposition America on the path of a more sustainable, energy-efficient and energy-independent future.
Colorado transportation officials are chomping at the bit to secure $250 million to $500 million for statewide projects, including at least $20 million to $30 million in Southwest Colorado. What qualifies a project for inclusion in the Obama green stimulus plan?
A group of local transportation and wildlife advocates is pitching its own version of green infrastructure projects, specifically a combined wildlife, pedestrian and bicyclist underpass at Wilson Gulch as part of the Farmington Hill-U.S. Highway 160 construction extravaganza. Extending a bicycle and pedestrian path from Durango to Three Springs and Mercy Regional Medical Center has been a long-time goal, and creating a safe passage beneath the four lanes of congested traffic is an obvious solution. At the same time, wildlife such as deer and elk also need a safe avenue for getting from one side of the road to the other. Combining both wildlife and pedestrian-bicycle crossings into a single element helps address both concerns.
In an ideal world, we'd have separate crossings for people and wildlife, but in a budget-constrained reality, combining the two and devising the best mitigations we can to make a people underpass wildlife-friendly too is perhaps the best we can do.
The $1.5 million Wilson Gulch underpass fits the Obama green stimulus criteria. It's shovel-ready, as much as anything planned in the Highway 160 construction corridor, and it has green elements lacking from the rest of the Highway 160 project. Inclusion of the Wilson Gulch pedestrian, bicycle and wildlife underpass should boost the 160 project's chances of green stimulus money, not detract from it.
Statewide, Colorado wildlife advocates propose that the Colorado Department of Transportation devote 1 percent of its potential half-billion-dollar stimulus package windfall to construction-ready wildlife projects that create safe crossings for wildlife and reduce animal collisions with automobiles.
Congress and Obama seem poised for quick action on a stimulus package. Every industry and bureaucracy in America is jockeying for a major piece of the pie. Obama's team reportedly is considering $171 billion in energy-efficiency upgrades to buildings and $20 billion or more in ready-to-go mass-transit projects. The Interior Department wants $10 billion to restore national parks, while the Army Corps of Engineers has its hand out for hundreds of millions to fix the wetlands and barrier islands to defend New Orleans from future hurricanes.
Some observers are reasonably concerned this spending frenzy may not ultimately do much to remake America, that the money would be more wisely spent on investing in green technologies with long-lasting impact. That's undoubtedly true, but grand spending on technology likely doesn't translate to immediate jobs in the next six months, which is Obama's stated intent for jump-starting the economy.
If we're looking at a massive infrastructure construction anyway, then let's include the $1.5 million Wilson Gulch underpass projects of the world that have real-world, environmental benefits.
Mark Pearson is director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.