Communities in Southwest Colorado have historically thrived because of the in- and out-of-state tourists that come to enjoy our limitless outdoor recreation opportunities and gorgeous vistas. However, the roads and bridges that lead to our towns throughout the Western Slope are crumbling, and if we want our local economies to survive, we need to save our infrastructure.
COVID-19 has already taken its toll on local businesses, and if we are going to build back better on the West Slope, it needs to start with state lawmakers restoring infrastructure, funding transportation projects, and opening the door for more far-reaching regional public transit while working to reduce air pollution.
At my company, High Desert Life Outdoors & Exchange – a local gear shop that prioritizes creating accessible opportunities for people to discover new passions in the outdoors – we have a good sense for the pulse of our community in Cortez. Fostering the healthy economic development and growth of our town – with the environment and sustainability top of mind – is a strong priority of ours.
Cortez is a town at a crossroads of canyon country and the San Juan Mountains, with significant highways spreading out, from U.S. 160 east to Durango, U.S. 145 north to Dolores and Telluride, and U.S. 491 northwest to Utah. There are thousands of cars and trucks passing by everyday – a trend we can only expect to increase as time goes on. That said, there is limited to nonexistent public transit opportunities.
Right now, transportation in the Four Corners region is limited to personal vehicles for most folks who have to commute to work or visit friends and family. Unfortunately this also means that the only people who are able to find work are the ones who have enough money to afford their own personal cars – and this makes access to jobs impossible for lower-income residents. It presents large hurdles for Cortez community members who are trying to find work in places like Telluride and Durango. It’s also important to note that putting more cars on the road will only exacerbate air pollution, impacting our health and the well-being of the environment.
Additionally, investing in roads and infrastructure is a critical stimulus for our local economy that creates jobs and helps keep businesses afloat in the short term. As the Western Slope is liable to see increased traffic in the years ahead, updating our infrastructure now is also a thoughtful, forward-thinking measure that will make our communities more resilient in the long run. For small businesses like mine, the economic upside of investing in public transportation and infrastructure on the Western Slope is an absolute no-brainer.
It is imperative that we do everything at our disposal to protect our community for generations to come; single-user vehicle use is one of the greatest and most easily preventable sources of hazardous emissions. Catalyzing public and multi-modal transport in the region is one of the easiest, most economically advantageous ways to invest in our community’s well-being and do our part as good stewards of our air, land and water.
I am proud to call Cortez home for myself, my family and my business. Expanding access to public transit and improving transportation infrastructure are pivotal steps forward for our community and region as a whole. Our state decision-makers in Denver need to take the Western Slope into account as they consider their priorities this legislative session.
Jeff Mobley is owner of High Desert Life Outdoors & Exchange, an outdoor gear and souveneir shop in downtown Cortez.