We have to talk, tourism, traffic and weed, Colorado.
Early fall means pumpkin beer, waiting for ski areas to turn on the snow guns, and whining about how overcrowded Colorado has become.
The overcrowding thing is now getting out of hand, partly because of tourism, our uber-cool state and our uber-stupid lack of foresight when it comes to transportation. The problem isn’t, however, pot.
So sniffy state tourism officials told Denver Post reporter Alicia Wallace last week that the state’s tax-funded tourism department won’t be lauding our recreational pot industry even as it works to lure ever more rafters, skiers, hikers, climbers, bikers, gawkers, anglers and eaters to Colorado. It makes no sense. Everybody knows, or should know, that Colorado lives on tourist dollars, in record-breaking numbers. Last year, Colorado saw almost 78 million tourists come through, essentially giving us about 19 billion of their hard-earned dollars.
Now of course the numbers are pretty squishy, like most government numbers can be, but what’s certain is that the same squishy numbers have been going up dramatically every year.
You don’t have to run spreadsheets to know that there are way more people out and about on Colorado roads, on the slopes, the trails and in line ahead of you at Starbucks at Downieville on I-70.
That venerable highway itself has seen a whopping jump in traffic at the Eisenhower Tunnel, going from about 10 million cars and trucks a year in 2000 to about 12 million in 2015. Skier visits and dollars are up, up, up. Good luck trying to find a seat in a raft on the Arkansas River on a whim over a July weekend.
Colorado is booked, folks. Our mentality has long been: More is better. Way more is way better. No it’s not. Not like this. While there are still plenty of parts of the state that have room for more tourists to eat, drink and recreate themselves right into our always-too-small-state budget, the places folks really want to get to — like everywhere on I-70, Colorado Springs, Boulder, Estes Park and Greeley (just kidding) — is fast becoming too clogged.
I could spew out even more numbers about peak travel times, lane-load, skiers-per-minute, river flows and blah, blah, blah. But all you really have to do is try and get yourself a camping space at Rocky Mountain National Park some day before you die, or drive to Colorado Springs during daylight to know that we can’t take any more people moving here, recreating here or even dreaming about it.
Unless. We have to build and improve ways for people to get around and go all Dick Lamm on deciding how to limit the number of people in our forests and mountainous pubic lands. Should birdwatching in Karval and those parts of Colorado’s plains ever become a thing, we’ll worry about overcrowding there, too.
But for now, the problem is the I-70 mountain corridor and the Front Range. I’m all for more tourism and even more for more tourists to bring us their money, but not until we make a plan for how to handle them. Spend all you want on those cheesy Facebook videos showing people having the best time ever hiking the Colorado Trail. But more of the money they bring here must go toward making I-70 drivable for all of us. A lot more money.
Colorado residents have long been too cheap, stupid or both to raise gas taxes or tolls or something to improve roads that look just about like they did in the early 1960s. This is a state that screams like a scorned cat if you even hint at raising gas taxes to build roads. But nobody says a damned thing when Big Oil hikes gas prices 50-cents a gallon because they kinda feel like it.
So given that every tourist we get here to rent a car, clog the roads and clog the trails on our wimpier fourteeners is a problem, why not think differently? Let’s lure people here to take the A-Train Downtown from DIA, providing it’s running, get a swank hotel room, Uber over to one of Denver’s fine, fine pot shops, and chill at the hotel for a few days. Drink some fine, fine Colorado brews or whiskey, leave us your cash and go home all relaxed. A little Blue Dream and they’ll be just fine with staying in their room, having hot cinnamon rolls delivered.
All we need to do is tweak a few city laws to allow for smoking lounges, patios or clubs and tax the living crap out of anyone without a Colorado driver license. We get all the money without the traffic.
And as for the rest of the world that comes here to trip the elevation fantastic? Head taxes, bed taxes, bud taxes, food taxes, park taxes, slope taxes, raft taxes, gas taxes — you name it, we step on it for non-residents.
Because if we don’t raise money fast to make it so people can get to where the want to go, they’ll quit coming. And I won’t have anything to complain about.
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