America’s Scenic Byways:
Colorado Report of Secondary Data

Commissioned by: The America’s Byways Resource Center

Prepared by: Diana Laughlin, Community Development Specialist, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension
Project Manager: Jon Schler, Colorado Center for Community Development

This report shows data collected from two secondary data sources on per capita retail sales and traffic patterns along Colorado National Byways. Our primary objective is to explore the impact of byway designation on these eight National Scenic Byways. The eight byways are: Dinosaur Diamond, Frontier Pathways, Gold Belt Byway Tour, Grand Mesa, San Juan Skyway, Santa Fe Trail, Top of the Rockies, and Trail Ridge Road/Beaver Meadows Road.

SUMMARY OF FINDINGS

Per Capita Retail Sales for National Byways in Colorado

In this report we look at two sources of secondary data in an effort to show impacts of byway designation on municipalities along byways. As with any data, both sets of data used here are imperfect measures of byway impacts because we can only use them to suggest economic and traffic changes. Still, there is evidence here that byway designation, especially state byway designation, which occurred prior to national designation in almost all cases, impacted per capita retail sales in many municipalities along the byways and impacted daily vehicle traffic counts along many sections of the eight byways.

As shown by per capita retail sales (PCRS) data in the charts presented here, byway designation has had a positive impact on per capita retail sales figured in many municipalities along the byways. While we cannot isolate byway designation from other variables that may have affected retail sales figures, the increases that occur after designation support the hypothesis that byway designation has a positive impact on PCRS in municipalities along the byway.

The CDOT data used to track daily vehicle miles traveled along the eight byways are the only data available for this purpose. While the huge amounts of data available from CDOT are impressive, CDOT’s method of tracking data is problematic. Some of CDOT’s figures are estimates and some are the actual numbers, and it is difficult for the researcher to differentiate the two. When we see the same numbers for section counts for more than one year in a row, we have to question whether the data are actual traffic numbers for those years. Within sections, on the individual segments of highways, it is virtually impossible to know which numbers are estimates only.

That said, we can still see patterns in daily vehicle miles traveled (DVMT) over time on sections of the byways. In the charts presented here we see indications, along many sections of the eight byways, that there were increases in DVMT in years following state byway designation dates. Increases in DVMT are most notable along sections of the Dinosaur Diamond, Frontier Pathways, Grand Mesa, and the San Juan Skyway. There is less or no evidence of byway designation impacts along the Gold Belt Tour, the Santa Fe Trail, Top of the Rockies and Trail Ridge Road.

 

PER CAPITA RETAIL SALES CHANGES ALONG THE BYWAYS

In the first section of this report we look at per capita retail sales reported by municipalities to the Colorado Department of Revenue from 1990 to 2001. The data used here can be found on Colorado’s Department of Local Affairs Colorado Economic and Demographic Information System (CEDIS). According to CEDIS and the DOR, the term Retail Sales is defined as the “total retail sales, in thousands, for a particular calendar year, as reported by the Colorado Department of Revenue.” Retail sales figures are calculated by taking a municipality’s gross sales and subtracting wholesale sales. According to a sales tax analyst at the DOR, retail sales are the gross domestic product or “GDP” for municipalities.

In order to compare the data across time, municipalities, and byway we did two things to the data. First, we adjusted each municipality’s yearly retail sales to 2001 dollars, using the Denver-Boulder consumer price indices and factors for adjusting current year data. Second, we divided each municipality’s adjusted retail sales figures (reported in thousands) by its population then multiplied by 1,000 to get the actual numbers. Population data for 1990 and 2000 came from the US Census, and data for other years during the period from 1991 to 2001 are estimates from the Colorado Demography Section.

In general, we would assume that per capita retail spending adjusted for inflation should remain relatively flat over time. We suggest here that any increases in per capita retail sales can be attributed to increased retail spending by visitors. We cannot say with any certainty that all non-local spenders are tourists or that any increase in spending is due to byway designation. But we can show changes in per capita spending over time, both within each byway and among the eight byways, and we can suggest a possible explanation for some of these changes. Increases in per capita retail sales could also imply increased employment opportunities/jobs in some municipalities along the byway, but there is no direct evidence for this.

BYWAY DESIGNATION DATES

As shown in the table below, dates for state and national byway designations differ for each of the national byways included in this study. In general, state byway designation occurred earlier for these byways, with the San Juan Skyway and Gold Best Tour being the first of the eight to become a Colorado Scenic Byway in 1989, and Trail Ridge Road being the latest in 1999. Trail Ridge Road was one of the first of the eight to become an All American Roadway, along with Grand Mesa and San Juan Skyway which received designation in 1996. Dinosaur Diamond was last of the eight to become a state byway in 1998, then a national byway in 2002.

BYWAY DESIGNATION DATES

 Byway

 CO
Byway

 America’s
Byway

 Dinosaur Diamond  1998  2002
 Frontier Pathways  1994  1998
 Gold Belt Tour  1989  2000
 Grand Mesa  1991  1996
 San Juan Skyway  1989  1996
 Santa Fe Trail  1992  1998
 Top of the Rockies  1993  1998
 Trail Ridge Road  1999  1996
With state and national byway designation years falling at various times within the time period studied, tracking impacts due to byway designation is difficult, to say the least. Access to retail sales data for years prior to 1990 would give more information about trends over time, but we did not have access to these data for this report. State- and county-level economic and other changes may have had some effect on local per capita retail sales, but we will have to leave this subject for consideration in another study.

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