Vail Daily column: Proposed transportation plan a good step
One of Colorado’s most vexing issues is fixing the state’s roads by finding reliable funding sources for transportation. This is fundamental to accelerate critical transportation projects throughout the state, including the expansion of Interstate 25 and, of special interest to us in the Vail Valley, Interstate 70.
The Vail Valley is a global destination, and the broader I-70 corridor continues to get harder and harder to access for those who recreate on the weekends, destination visitors accessing our communities from out-of-state, businesses reliant on freight to export their goods and residents. Colorado’s mountain corridor is vital to the economic health of the state, and our state and local economy is at risk without major improvements. As Vail Mayor Dave Chapin recently stated, “transportation is an issue that directly correlates to our state’s economic health and ability to compete.”
Diminishing source of revenue
Currently, funding for Colorado’s transportation improvements comes from the federal gasoline tax. This is a diminishing source of revenue given improvements in automotive fuel efficiency. Unfortunately, the gas tax — 22 cents per gallon — does not increase annually with inflation and has not been increased since 1991. At the same time, cars have become more fuel efficient, which has created a declining collection of revenues and has contributed to the Colorado Department of Transportation’s $9 billion list of needs for transportation infrastructure.
Colorado Department of Transportation executive director Shailen Bhatt was recently quoted in 5280 Magazine saying “here in Colorado, people see the need for transportation funding investment. It’s the how that gets very tricky.” Expanding on Bhatt’s comment, transportation funding is not a Republican or Democratic issue; it’s a Colorado issue.
Fortunately, legislative leaders heeded our collective call for action last week with the introduction of a bipartisan measure, House Bill 17-1242, to address Colorado’s transportation challenges. The introduction of this bill is the culmination, and next significant turn, in a long and twisting road.
The proposal has critical implications for our communities and regions throughout Colorado. The foundation of the measure is the $3.5 billion bonding package funding CDOT priority projects statewide. It also provides additional funding for local projects as well as transit and mobility projects.
In a nutshell, the bill is as follows:
• Refers a measure to the ballot increasing sales tax to generate resources for state and local governments;
• Cuts the FASTER Road Safety surcharge, saving Coloradans money on their vehicle registration fees;
• Directs roughly $680 million in new and existing resources toward the state and local transportation needs — from safer and less congested highways to safer routes for our kids when they head off to school;
• Leverages state investment for up to $3.5 billion in bonding for projects across the state;
• Enhances transparency and accountability, including citizen oversight of projects and simple-to-navigate website so Coloradans can track the progress cost and timeline of projects, and ensuring the state is spending taxpayer dollars wisely; and,
• Ensures every county, every city and every Coloradan shares in the benefits from this transportation package.
“Every county and city in Colorado will share in the benefits from this transportation package,” Colorado House of Representatives Speaker Christina Duran, a Democrat, said. “And we will insist on transparency and accountability, so that voters will know where their dollars are going and how they will be used. This package, if approved by the legislature and the voters, would be a major step forward for this state and firmly position us for growth and prosperity for the next 20 years.”
Fix Colorado Roads
“Introduction of this transportation bill doesn’t mean we’ve arrived, just that we’ve hit another important mile marker on the long and winding road to a long-term transportation fix for Colorado,” Colorado Senate President Kevin Grantham, a Republican, said. “This bill probably isn’t what the final product will look like, because what’s being introduced is a work in progress and there’s still a lot of debate, compromise and hard work ahead before we’ll have a proposal good enough to pass muster with voters. But I’m optimistic that we’ll get there in the end.”
Passage of a $3.5 billion bond package for transportation projects across the state has been the primary objective of the Fix Colorado Roads coalition (of which Vail Valley Partnership is a member) since the conversation began two years ago. Having additional resources to address the needs of local governments is an added benefit to the transportation funding and finance discussion that we have readily embraced in the past several months.
Vail Valley Partnership is encouraged to see legislators (including Eagle County representative Diane Mitsch Bush, a co-sponsor of this legislation) work across the aisle, and we believe HB-1242 is a huge step toward addressing our statewide transportation infrastructure needs.
Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership.