Transportation bill raises eyebrows and concerns about rural voices around Colorado

Rural areas worry they'll lose influence

An idea to re-draw the state's system of transportation planning regions has taken local officials by surprise. That's raised worries about reducing rural Colorado's influence in transportation decision-making.
Hugh Carey/Summit Daily archive photo
About the bill
  • Bill number: HB23-1101
  • Title: Ozone Season Transit Grant Program Flexibility
  • What it does: Allows transit agencies flexibility during periods of high ozone pollution.
  • The amendment: Would re-draw the state’s transportation planning regions.

Matt Scherr thinks the state’s system of transportation planning regions should be revised, but not under a current proposal.

Scherr, an Eagle County Commissioner, is that board’s representative on the I-70 Coalition, a nonprofit consortium of businesses and local governments that looks for ways to make travel easier on that highway.

The Coalition, along with other local and regional transportation groups, has spent about a week pondering the possible effects of an amendment tacked onto another transportation bill.

If the amendment survives, it will re-draw the state’s “transportation planning regions,” groups that aid in planning for highway and other work across the state.

The amendment was inserted into the “Ozone Season Transit Grant Program Flexibility” act. As proposed, the bill would provide grants to transit agencies to provide free fares during times of high ozone pollution.

Support Local Journalism

Margaret Bowes is the director of the I-70 Coalition. Speaking by phone on a return trip to Summit County from Denver, Bowes said the amendment “caught us all by surprise.”

That surprise has led to a lot of trying to understand what the amendment might mean.

The Coalition hasn’t yet taken a position on the amendment. But in early discussions, people in the state’s rural areas agree on one thing: “We don’t want to see any change in the (planning region) structure that might diminish the voice of rural Colorado.”

Matt Inzeo is the Colorado Department of Transportation’s communications director and an adviser to department Director Shoshana Lew.

Inzeo said the state’s transportation planning region system was created in the 1990s. A lot has changed in the state’s transportation picture since then, Inzeo said.

Geography plays a role in the desire to revise the 10 rural planning regions, Inzeo said. For instance, Estes Park, located at the eastern entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, is in the same region as Brush, a mostly agricultural community located northeast of Denver on Interstate 76.

The population also plays a role, Inzeo said. Eagle County shares a planning region with Summit, Garfield, Lake and Pitkin counties. As of 2016, those counties had a combined population of about 176,000 people. Other transportation regions have populations of as few as 20,000 people.

“We’re not looking to change the balance between rural and urban areas,” Inzeo said.

Proposed laws must hew to a single subject, but Inzeo said transportation officials believe the amendment is a “sub-element” of one subject — transit planning.

Scherr said the idea for changes to the planning region system is needed. But, he added, “the amendment has nothing to do with the bill it’s attached to.”

Inserting the amendment into another bill without notice raised a lot of eyebrows.

“When (legislation) happens that way, everybody freaks out,” he said

Given the suspicion raised by the amendment, Scherr said revising the state’s transportation regions should be considered as a separate topic.

“(It’s) a big enough deal they should take some time with it,” he said.

Support Local Journalism