Improving Denver traffic will require money, technology, CDOT executive director says

DENVER – The man who is leaving his post as the head of the Colorado Department of Transportation says Coloradans have some choices to make if they want to improve traffic in the metro area.

"You know, in many ways it's the new normal just because the growth that has taken place," said Shailen Bhatt, who has been the executive director of CDOT for nearly three years.

Bhatt is leaving Colorado for a job leading a transportation organization in Washington, D.C.

"If you think about our issues, we have an interstate system that was designed in the 1950s, built in the 1960s for a population of the 1980s," he said.

Over the years, he’s been frustrated that Colorado hasn't made large-scale funding changes to CDOT’s new road budget. Many hoped it would happen in this year's legislative session but it did not.

"When I got to Colorado, people told me, 'Oh you'll like it here because it's not D.C. Actually in the three years I've been here, it's felt a little bit like D.C."

Lawmakers haven’t raised the state gas tax since 1993.

"There have been common sense solutions that would have just made sense. Because neither side wants the other side to score -- to be able to say we actually got something done -- a lot of stuff just sits," he said.

There have been successes, he says, pointing to the upcoming I-70 widening project, additional lanes on I-25 north and the ones planned on I-25 south. There’s also the toll lane on I-70 eastbound that’s helped ski traffic.

"When I got here it was a disaster. Coming back on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, traffic was below 10 miles an hour. And now we know traffic flows at 45 to 55 miles an hour in all three lanes, not just that express lane,” Bhatt said.

New technology might rescue us, he says. Technology can allow cars in gridlock to warn other drivers farther back.

"As these cars start slowing down, they can start broadcasting back to the person who is five miles away saying, 'Something bad is happening up here. You should not get into this queue. You should run around it," he said.

It will take years before cars all have this technology.

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