Colorado faces $149B transportation funding shortfall
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Glenwood Springs , CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Like a man pulling out the liners of his pockets looking for spare change, Colorado’s transportation arm is scratching its head trying to figure out what to do about a projected $149 billion funding shortfall through 2035.
Members of Gov. Bill Ritter’s Blue Ribbon Transportation Panel passed through Glenwood Springs Tuesday on a five-week community outreach effort to tell people the state’s transportation funding system is in a state of crisis and talk about possible solutions.
Doug Aden, chairman of the Colorado Transportation Commission, told those gathered for Monday’s ribbon-cuttings for the new Maroon Creek Bridge and bus lanes on Highway 82 in Aspen, and the Veterans Memorial Bridge on Highway 133 at Carbondale, that projects like those probably won’t happen in the future unless Colorado finds a way to fix its transportation funding. Aden said a possible Highway 82 relocation in Glenwood Springs and a new bridge over the Roaring Fork River in south Glenwood Springs also won’t find any state funding.
“These are the types of projects statewide and locally that simply will not happen in the future because there won’t be revenue to do them,” he said.
Aden said Glenwood’s Grand Avenue Bridge over the Colorado River is ranked both structurally and functionally deficient “and of course those of you who have the joy of using this daily during rush hour know what that’s all about.”
Later on during the meeting, Ralph Trapani, a highway engineer who used to work for CDOT, said the Grand Avenue Bridge had a lower rating than the Interstate 35W Bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis in August 2007.
The I-35W Bridge was built in 1964 and was rated 50 out of 100. The Grand Avenue Bridge was built in 1953 and was rated 47.7 last year. But the rating is meant to help determine which bridges may need repair or replacement, not which bridges could collapse.
The CDOT region that encompasses Glenwood Springs has a $92 million backlog to fix 11 structurally deficient bridges and only a $3 million budget to fix them, Aden said.
CDOT doesn’t let people drive over bridges in danger of collapsing, Aden said, but the funding problem could lead to load restrictions, detours and closures.
The state’s transportation funding crisis is bad enough that CDOT is starting to discuss scaling back snow plowing.
At the heart of the problem is the gas tax that the Colorado Department of Transportation relies on for cash. Aden said a 22 cent state gas tax and an 18.4-cent federal gas tax used to fund transportation haven’t been increased since the early 1990s, and due to inflation, the tax revenue falls far short of meeting escalating demands and increasing costs.
“Basically we have no sustainable revenue source beyond the gasoline tax,” Aden said. “We just can’t keep putting Band-Aids on this problem.”
One reason behind the transportation panel’s effort to tell people about the funding crisis was that people apparently think all is well in the world of Colorado transportation infrastructure. Aden said the panel was shocked to learn from one survey that 63 percent of people in Colorado didn’t think the condition of the state’s transportation infrastructure was important to them.
Local officials and citizens offered up a handful of ideas like linking transportation funding to developments through impact fees.
Garfield County Commissioner Tresi Houpt said it’s important to look to solutions like rail and other types of transit that will be practical in the future rather than only focusing on maintaining and upgrading highways.
Republican state representative and state Senate candidate Al White said, “I think the ultimate solution is going to be a compilation of gas tax, perhaps a piece of statewide sales tax, perhaps a piece of fee increase. Let’s spread the pain as moderately as we can across the board.”
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