Colorado’s Bold New Approach to Highways — Not Building Them

“When Interstate 25 was constructed through Denver, highway engineers moved a river.

It was the 1950s, and nothing was going to get in the way of building a national highway system. Colorado’s governor and other dignitaries, including the chief engineer of the state highway department, acknowledged the moment by posing for a photo standing on bulldozer tracks, next to the trench that would become Interstate 25.

Today, state highway departments have rebranded as transportation agencies, but building, fixing and expanding highways is still mostly what they do.

“The scale of the challenge to getting a net-zero transportation system is, I think, much bigger than folks want to acknowledge,” said Costa Samaras, the director of the Wilton E. Scott Institute for Energy Innovation at Carnegie Mellon University. To meet emissions targets, “ridiculously high levels of electrification” are needed, he said. “We also, at the same time, need to be building the types of communities that enable folks to move around without needing to rely on a car.”

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