Car fee hike appears likely in Colorado |

Car fee hike appears likely in Colorado

DENVER, Colorado ” A House committee backed a proposal to raise car registration fees to pay for bridge and road repairs late Tuesday despite concerns about how the hikes would affect people struggling during the recession.

The House Transportation and Energy Committee voted 6-5 to support the bill and send it to the appropriations committee. All Democrats on the committee voted for the bill, while all Republicans voted against.

Lawmakers on both sides of the vote said they were concerned about raising fees during the economic downturn. But Rep. Joe Rice, D-Littleton, said without more money, the state’s roads will continue to deteriorate and cost more to fix later.

“The cost of doing nothing is greater to individual pocketbooks and to the state as a whole,” he said.

Rep. Mike May, the leader of House Republicans, said he still hoped that a bipartisan proposal on transportation could be reached.

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The measure (Senate Bill 108) would require owners of cars and SUVs to pay an extra $32 this year and $41 next year. The bill would also raise trucking fees, impose a $2 daily fee on car rentals, and open the door to tolling on existing roads.

Contractors, manufacturers of supplies like concrete and asphalt, and construction engineers support the bill, saying it would save or create jobs lost because of the recession. Rental car companies oppose it.

In the middle are many trucking companies, which are willing to pay the extra fees but say paying tolls could break them, forcing them to cut benefits or lay off workers. They favor a gas or sales tax hike instead.

“They’re asking for an open checkbook,” said Dick Brennan, whose Grand Junction company hauls oil and gas equipment.

Environmentalists back tolling because communities could use some of the revenue to help pay for mass transit, though they wouldn’t be required to.

The bill itself doesn’t impose any tolls, but it gives local communities the power to do so if they wish.

It would raise the fees starting July 1, which would bring in about $250 million a year. That amount could be bonded and used to fix highways and 125 of the 126 bridges now rated in poor condition over the next four years. Of the $250 million, $10 million would be set aside to pay for safety improvements for pedestrians and cyclists, such as building bike lanes on congested roads and improving intersections and cross walks.

There likely won’t be enough money to replace the 126th bridge ” the Interstate 70 viaduct near the Denver Coliseum ” which would cost $800 million. The state Transportation Department instead plans to spend about $25 million on fixes to get the bridge through another 10 years.

Of the 126 bridges considered in poor condition, six are in line to possibly be replaced or overhauled with money from the federal stimulus package. State transportation commissioners have to finalize the list now that they know that Colorado will get $400 million from the package.

Another 10 are on a backup list. They could be funded if any projects on the main list fall through or if the state ends up getting more money because other states couldn’t spend their money fast enough.

Backers of the bill say the state needs a long-term solution to paying for roads beyond the stimulus. The governor’s transportation panel recommended that the state needs $500 million a year to keep up with maintenance on existing bridges and roads.

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