Eagle County sides with Let’s Go, Colorado for fall ballot
EAGLE — It’s an issue that brings widespread agreement across the state — Colorado’s transportation infrastructure has not kept pace with its population growth.
But that’s where the agreement ends, as evidenced by the ballots that will go to state voters this fall.
There will be two statewide transportation questions to be decided in this fall’s election. One is titled “Let’s Go, Colorado” or Proposition 110, and the other is titled “Fix Our Damn Roads” or Proposition 109. Proposition 110 calls for a .62 percent increase in the state’s sales and use taxes to bring in an estimated $767 million in new revenue which will be divided between the Colorado Department of Transportation, municipalities, counties and special statewide projects to address transportation needs. Proposition 109 would not raise taxes, but it would require the state government to issue up to $3.5 billion in Transportation Revenue Anticipation Notes — government bonds to specifically fund transportation projects. State lawmakers would then be tasked with paying off the up to 20-year debt by allocating money from the existing state budget.
This week, the Eagle County commissioners threw their support behind the Let’s Go Colorado proposal.
Stepping down from her commissioner seat to stand at the public podium, Commissioner Jill Ryan introduced the Let’s Go, Colorado proposal. Proposition 110 would increase the state’s 2.9 percent sales tax rate by .62 percent — about six cents on $10, for 20 years, to generate new transportation funding.
“Currently, the Colorado Department of Transportation estimates it has a $1 billion shortfall in funding,” said Ryan.
According to data from the Let’s Go, Colorado campaign, the average state transportation spending per driver, adjusted for inflation, is about half of what it was during 1991. That was the last time the state and federal gas tax was increased. But during the same time, the state’s population has grown by nearly 60 percent causing increased demands on Colorado’s transportation infrastructure.
“Someone asked me the other day, ‘Why doesn’t CDOT just tighten its belt?’” said Ryan. She responded that the state has already done that and today’s deteriorating roads are the result. Let’s Go, Colorado estimates that the failure to maintain roads and bridges adequately costs Coloradans an average of $468 per driver per year due to damage and unnecessary wear and tear on vehicles.
BIG PROJECT FUNDING
Along with the need to repair and maintain existing roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure, the Let’s Go, Colorado initiative highlights big project needs statewide. The Interstate 70 is at the forefront of that list including large improvements at Vail Pass, Dowd Junction and Floyd Hill.
The first phase of the west Vail Pass auxiliary lane project is estimated to cost $225 million and would extend from the East Vail exit to the Vail Pass Rest Area. By extending I-70 to three lanes in the area, CDOT believes the number of crashes along the corridor will decrease, along with the number of full closures. Those would be welcome improvements for communities located west of the pass.
“The I-70 corridor is the lifeblood of the Western Slope. West Vail Pass is a Top 5 project for CDOT,” said CDOT director Mike Lewis. “There is a $1 million economic impact for every hour I-70 is closed. The project will only get more expensive with time, and every year the negative economic impact continues.”
The Dowd Junction project would cost $14.5 million and would address one of the highest crash rate areas along I-70 by upgrading the current substandard on-ramp, which merges onto I-70 on a sharp curve. Additionally the project would accommodate future construction of a missing connection for the Eagle-Vail Trail System.
The cost estimates for the Floyd Hill project are yet to be determined, but the ambitious plan includes construction of a new tunnel, lane expansion, highway relocation and more as part of a plan to improve travel times, increase highway capacity and improve safety along the I-70 stretch between Floyd Hill and the Veterans Memorial Tunnels.
“Improving travel along the I-70 corridor is critical,” said Ryan. “Without a statewide transportation initiative, that just won’t be possible.”
SHARING THE PIE
Ryan said the Let’s Go, Colorado initiative splits the dollars generated from the .62 percent increase in sales tax between CDOT (45 percent) and local governments (40 percent) with large “multimodel projects” earmarked for 15 percent of the money. In Eagle County, she noted the projected allocation would be $1.8 million with a total of $51.8 million raised over 20 years.
That additional money could fund road improvements, matching project funds and expansion of the ECO Transit and Eagle County Trail systems, Ryan said.
For ECO Transit, the increased funding would mean more bus routes, decreased or free fares and more park and ride locations.
“Our ridership is more out of necessity than by choice,” said ECO Transit Director Chris Lubbers. “The No. 1 and No. 2 reason for riding transit is lack of a car and lack of parking.”
Along the Eagle County trail, there is roughly 15 miles of construction needed to close the loop. But the sections that remain are in areas where it is more difficult and expensive to build and ECO Trails director Kevin Sharkey estimated it will cost around $19 million to finish the trail system.
“Think about this, though. Once we complete this trail you will be able to ride your bike from Breckenridge to Aspen,” said Sharkey.
Faced with the two propositions on the ballot, the commissioners stated their support for Lets Go,Colorado.
“Approving bonding without a funding stream is not very fiscally responsible,” said Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney. “This is really the time to fund what we think is important.”
“Bonding without a dedicated funding source is kind of like using your credit card and hoping your kids will pay your bill later,” said Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry.
Ryan noted that Proposition 110 may represent the last statewide effort to address transportation funding. She said several Front Range communities have indicated they will proceed independently to pursue transportation funding if the measure fails this November.
Chandler-Henry said the state would be better served to look at its transportation needs comprehensively. To see the benefit of that approach, she pointed to Colorado’s neighbor to the west. Chandler-Henry noted she recently completed a car trip that took her through Utah on the way back home to Colorado.
“It was a startling difference in road conditions,” she said.
The arctic blast we saw at the end of October was just a tease. After a warmish, dry start to November, there isn’t much relief in sight.