DENVER — Colorado is set to receive several billion dollars in funding from the federal infrastructure package passed by Congress this month.
The $1.2 trillion bipartisan package covers everything from roads to utilities to broadband internet.
During a press conference Friday, Sen. John Hickenlooper highlighted what this bill is going to mean for Colorado’s infrastructure.
“The infrastructure bill is a big deal. It’s a really big deal,” Hickenlooper said. “This is the largest climate investment ever to date.”
Of the funding, Colorado is projected to receive $3.7 billion for roads, $225 million for bridge repairs and replacements and $917 million for public transit, among other things. An estimated 480 bridges and 3,600 miles of highway in Colorado are considered to be in poor condition.
The Colorado Department of Transportation has compiled a list of dozens of projects it would like to complete within the next 10 years to help people get around the state faster and more safely.
“Because we worked with local communities to build a 10-year strategic pipeline already, we know exactly where we want those dollars to go and we can keep moving as fast as possible,” CDOT communications director Matt Inzeo said.
Among the many items on that list: adding more express lanes to busy sections of I-25, working to relieve congestion along I-270, bridge replacements along I-70 and more.
CDOT already had targeted the funding for the first four years of the project. Between the federal legislation and the state’s recently passed transportation law, Inzeo says the state should be able to make its way through that project list a year or two faster than expected.
“With the funding, now we get to switch over to planning and execution. There’s still plenty of headaches, particularly in the world of complex construction, but we can now go and attack those with a little more security that we know how to fund and pay for all of these projects,” Inzeo said.
The state is also projected to receive $35 million to protect against wildfires, $16 million to build up cyber security, $688 million to improve water infrastructure and $432 million for airports, among other things.
Hickenlooper’s RECHARGE Act made it into the final version of the bill and is focused on making electric vehicles more affordable.
“I think we’re going to look back 50 years from now and we’re going to say this is the beginning of the great transition,” he said.
It also accelerates the development of more EV charging stations across the country. Colorado is expected to see $57 million over five years in funding for that venture.
“Let’s say 20 years from now we’re going to be all electric vehicles. We have to make sure there’s charging stations and that the grid can handle it,” Hickenlooper said.
He believes work will begin on some of these projects as soon as the first quarter of 2022.
Another big push made by the infrastructure bill was to improve and expand internet access for communities across the country. A number of communities across Colorado still have either low or no access to broadband internet.
The pandemic placed a new emphasis on the importance of the internet in connecting communities for everything from schooling to doctor’s appointments.
“In the same way that every home needs access to power of some type, every home is going to need access to the Internet to live in a modern economy,” said Julia Richman, the deputy executive director of the governor’s Office of Information Technology.
Over the years, Colorado has worked hard to continue to expand access to communities all over the state. However, the state’s geography poses unique challenges in construction. While the fiber itself is relatively cheap, the construction itself can be difficult and expensive.
Along with up to $1 billion in funding from the federal infrastructure package, Richman is expecting the state to see $170 million from the American Rescue Plan Act and another $75 million from state legislation that passed this year.
“We are becoming awash in money and are excited about the opportunity to really use that,” Richman said.
Some of the money will go directly to communities or service providers in the state to help with their projects.
The next big challenge will be coming up with a strategy in various communities for how to go about closing the digital divide. Finding workers to complete the construction could also be difficult.
“There are only so many contractors that do this work, and because the entire country is really receiving a lot of funding at some point, I do have concerns that there won’t be enough workers and skilled folks in this area to build networks in every community across the country,” she said.
Nevertheless, Richman is excited about the opportunities that are ahead for Colorado and the families who will be able to receive services that were out of reach before.
President Joe Biden is expected to sign the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package on Monday.