Best of the West: States invest in infrastructure; western athletes shine at Olympics; real estate in the region remains hot; Colorado man races to record summits

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting July 26, 2021. (Photos courtesy of Diego Jimenez and Jeff Chen)

Western Governors reemphasized the need for a long-term federal funding mechanism to maintain and expand transportation infrastructure in their updated policy resolution, Transportation Infrastructure in the Western United StatesNevertheless, several western states have taken it upon themselves to ensure their infrastructure keeps pace with their growing populations. 

“Everyone knows we need to fix it," said Colorado Gov. Jared Polis after signing a bill to inject $5.4 billion into the state’s highway system over the next 11 years and also promote electric vehicles. “Investments in infrastructure are like a relay race. Each generation must carry the torch so the next generation can go farther,” Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly said after approving nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars’ worth of modernization and expansion projects for roadways throughout the Sunflower State.

The Tribal Infrastructure Fund Board, as part of $300 million earmarked in the New Mexico budget for roadway infrastructure and improvements, awarded $26 million for 17 projects to improve water systems, roads, buildings, wastewater treatment and other items in nine tribal communities. “These funds will make a real, significant difference for families, workers and for economic development and quality of life on tribal land in New Mexico,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, said. 

Idaho legislators approved the single largest state investment in transportation infrastructure in history, greenlighting a transportation bill that directs $80 million toward roads and other transportation projects this year and allows the state to bond for another $1.6 billion for transportation infrastructure projects over the next 20 years. "Idaho is the fastest-growing state in the nation," said Gov. Brad Little. "To keep up with the demands of a fast-growing state, our sustainable transportation funding solution helps save Idahoans' time, keeps us safe on our roads, and makes our state's economy even stronger."

Citing similarly fast-growing populations and flourishing economies, Arizona approved a $321 million investment in transportation infrastructure and Utah approved a $1.2 billion plan to upgrade the state’s infrastructure. Using a fuel tax that will generate $54 billion over the next decade, The California Transportation Commission earmarked $1.18 billion for transportation projects this year. 

REGIONAL REAL ESTATE ERUPTION: After more than a year working from home during a pandemic, many Americans are rethinking whether they want to return to commuting — or even live near their office. According to the new Wall Street Journal/ Emerging Housing Markets Index, they don’t, resulting in smaller and more remote housing markets emerging as the hottest new places to live and own. The Index shows Billings, Montana and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho top the list as the hottest real estate markets in the country, but another four cities in WGA’s footprint made the top 20.

GOLD RUSH: Of the 38 total medals won so far by American athletes at the Tokyo Olympics, 16 are from the West. That includes Lydia Jacoby, the 17-year old from Alaska (that state’s first Olympic swimmer) who shocked the world by winning gold in the Women’s 100-meter breaststroke. Other western medalists included: Carissa Moore, a Hawaiian who fittingly won the first-ever Olympic gold medal in Women’s surfing; Anastasija Zolotic of Colorado, who became the first American to take home the Olympic gold medal in women’s Taekwondo, and Jagger Eaton of Arizona, who won bronze in the first-ever men’s street skateboarding competition at the Olympics. As the wins keep coming for western athletes, WGA will keep track and compile a complete list after the Olympics conclude. 

In the meantime, check out the winners from the 60th World Eskimo-Indian Olympics in Fairbanks, where native Alaskans compete in age-old traditions such as the ear pull, the two-foot high kick, and the Indian Stick Pull, all of which test the body and spirit and teach the preparedness needed to survive in northern communities. 

DON’T CALL IT A COMEBACK: Despite extreme drought throughout much of the West, a new survey reported rural parts of 10 Plains and Western states are seeing continued economic growth, even as nonfarm jobs in most of those states remained below pre-pandemic levels. Hope, however, remains for non-farm jobs, as Montana saw its tech industry increase revenues by $400 billion in 2020. "As we increase access to reliable broadband, high-tech businesses can be in any Montana community, and we'll continue inviting Montanans who've left to return home, bringing their jobs and their appreciation for our Montana way of life with them," Gov. Greg Gianforte said.  

KING OF THE MOUNTAINS: Andrew Hamilton recently climbed the Bicentennial State’s 100 highest peaks in record time. Though he originally planned to accomplish this feat of endurance in 20 days, it ultimately took 22 days, 16 hours, and 54 minutes to hike the 471 miles and 249,201 feet of vertical gain. To do so he averaged almost 5 summits per day, ranging from 14,433 feet at the top of Mount Elbert (the highest peak in Colorado) to 13,809 feet at the summit of Dallas Peak. Hamilton’s no stranger to endurance achievements. Previously, he climbed all 58 of the state's 14,000-plus feet peaks (known as “fourteeners”) in less than 10 days, climbed all of the fourteeners while biking between them in 20 days, and has summited all of the fourteeners in a single winter season.

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