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Local officials back transportation funding bill working its way through legislature

May 14, 2021, 9:48 am
I-70 jam Dowd Junction
A recent traffic jam in Dowd Junction on Interstate 70 (David O. Williams photo).

Local policymakers largely back the recently introduced state Senate Bill 260 to impose a variety of fees to finally start addressing Colorado’s severe lack of transportation infrastructure funding over the last several decades.

Eagle County Commissioner Matt Scherr had this to say about SB260, which has been dubbed the Sustainability of the Transportation System bill:

“Eagle County has shared in the state’s struggle to adequately fund transportation that is so critical to our economy,” Scherr said in a written statement included in a lengthy press release on the bill earlier this month (see below for full release).

Matt Scherr

“This solution is not just bold, it is timely to leverage federal relief and infrastructure funding related to the Covid pandemic,” Scherr added. “Our need for transportation funding is critical, and the opportunity this bill presents right now is extraordinary. Eagle County wholeheartedly supports this approach to funding and implementing statewide transportation solutions.”

Vail Valley Partnership President and CEO Chris Romer recently penned a column in support of the proposal, citing the failure of the Colorado Legislature and Colorado voters to properly fund transportation infrastructure.

“Vail Valley Partnership has long advocated for a legislative transportation package to include permanent funding that is composed of long-term investment from the general fund, asking voters for a modest increase the state gasoline tax, which has not been raised in Colorado since 1991 and is lower than other western states with whom Colorado competes for business,” Romer wrote. “Consider Utah, which has a 33-cent state gas tax compared to Colorado’s 22 cents.”

The Colorado Department of Transportation points out that since the state last raised its gas tax in 1991, the state’s population has boomed by 50% but highway capacity has only been increased by 2%.

SB260 would also impose fees on electric vehicles and delivery services to fairly distribute the financial burden of paying for transportation maintenance and improvement. The proposal may face legal challenges by using fees rather than taxes, which would require voter approval.

Here’s the full press release from earlier this month, including comments from Scherr and other local elected officials:

This afternoon, Governor Jared Polis, Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, Speaker Alec Garnett, Senator Faith Winter, and Representative Matt Gray, announced the introduction of a transportation package which will create a dynamic, 21st Century transportation system that will drive Colorado’s economic comeback, establish a sustainable funding source to improve Colorado roads, invest in electric vehicle charging infrastructure, and expand multi-modal and transit options to reduce congestion and improve air quality.

“We can’t talk about the Colorado comeback without bold action to modernize our roads, bridges, and transit, and that’s what this bill is all about. This proposal is about the future of our state, and today we are taking an important step toward making that vision a reality,” said Governor Jared Polis. “This legislation has come together after months of collaboration, hard work, and compromise, and we now have an opportunity to create a solution that saves people money right away by reducing vehicle registration fees and works for the Colorado of tomorrow, including creating cleaner air and more efficient transportation.

“As we look to power Colorado’s comeback after the pandemic, we find ourselves at a turning point,” said Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder. “We have an opportunity to affect real change and  build for the future in a way that modernizes how we move people and goods, supports businesses, improves air quality, and strengthens communities. This future-looking package will establish a comprehensive transportation funding plan to modernize our state’s transportation system for at least the next decade.”

“Colorado sets the gold standard on innovative policy and good governance, but on transportation, we’re falling behind and losing our competitive edge,” said Speaker Alec Garnett, D-Denver. “Coloradans are feeling the pain of our outdated infrastructure. We sit in traffic. Businesses suffer. Our cars look and feel twice as old as they really are. Today, we’re charting a different course, competing for new businesses, and becoming a leader for how states should fund transportation. With this plan, we can fix our roads, spend less time stuck in traffic, improve air quality, get more Colorado goods to markets across the world, attract new businesses and create good jobs.”  

“With today’s action, we are putting forward an unprecedented step towards tackling emissions from the transportation sector and advancing the fight against climate change, which poses an existential threat to our state and communities.  Colorado is leading by example as the nation takes on the reality that transportation is now the number one source of emissions,” said Senate Transportation & Energy Committee Chair, Senator Faith Winter, D-Westminster. “The bill also takes critical steps to connect communities – making key investments in multimodal infrastructure as well as making sure that Colorodans across the state will have access to zero emission vehicles and the infrastructure to support them.”  

“Colorado has to be ready for the day when market-driven transitions lead car manufacturers to make all-electric vehicles fleets the norm,” said Rep. Matt Gray, D-Broomfield. “This bill reduces pollution and supports the adoption of electric vehicles by investing in the charging and fueling infrastructure needed to make owning one even easier than owning a gas or diesel vehicle. We’re going to invest in public transit and safe infrastructure for walking and biking to reduce traffic and ensure that Coloradans have more ways to get to work, get to class, and enjoy everything our beautiful state has to offer.” 

The transportation proposal unveiled today will save Coloradans money and time spent on roads by reducing congestion, creating new transportation options, and balancing the needs of every Colorado community. Colorado’s gas tax was created in 1991, and its value has significantly eroded since then, leaving Colorado roads and transportation system drastically underfunded. The bill will create a sustainable funding source for transportation infrastructure that will support a dynamic economy, improve air quality, create jobs, and ensure Colorado is positioned to compete. 

“For decades our transportation infrastructure has been deteriorating and Coloradans have been paying the price. From ballooning commute times to increased wear and tear on our vehicles, the state of our roads is costing us all far too much,” said Senator Kevin Priola, R-Adams County. “It’s time that we modernize – investing in solutions that will support Colorado for years to come. That’s why I am excited to support this solution.  By boldly taking steps to end our transportation crisis with long term solutions for Colorado.”

The proposal will provide $5.268 billion in transportation funding to fix roads and bridges, improve transit options, meet Colorado’s climate goals, and future proof the state’s transportation system. The funding will come from a fair and responsible mix of state, federal, and fee revenue that reflects all the users and uses of our transportation system. For the first two years, the proposal reduces vehicle registration fees, saving drivers money in 2021 and 2011. All new fees won’t begin until 2021 and will be nominal, costing the average driver about $28 in the first year and will be spread across all users of the system to bring down costs on people while ensuring we are improving our infrastructure. 

Overall, the bill promotes collaboration between the Department of Transportation (CDOT), Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE), and the Colorado Energy Office (CEO) to coordinate both regional and statewide efforts to develop a transportation system that supports a dynamic economy while improving air quality, saving Coloradans money and time spent on the roads, and making key investments in rural and disproportionately impacted communities.

To ensure transparency, performance and accountability measures will be required for every entity that receives funding through this bill, including the four new enterprises created within the bill. The Colorado Energy Office and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will report on progress made toward the electric motor vehicle adoption goals in the “Colorado Electric Vehicle Plan 2020” and the transportation sector greenhouse gas pollution reduction goals in the “Colorado Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap.” CDOT and every new enterprise will maintain project management public dashboards that will show key performance indicators for projects paid for by the funding in this bill.

To address Colorado’s eroding fuel tax, the proposal will ensure we don’t lose ground in the future by imposing a small road use fee so that everyone pays their share as the state transitions to electric vehicles. However, because now is not the time to ask Coloradans to pay more, this proposal saves drivers money in 2021 and 2022 by reducing vehicle registration fees.

Over the course of the eleven-year plan set forth in the bill, nearly $3.8 billion will be generated through new fee revenue, and the bill will leverage nearly $1.5 billion in state general fund revenue and stimulus dollars. This will provide long overdue funds after years of failed legislative attempts and ballot measures to support our statewide transportation system, as well as create good-paying jobs that will continue to exist for decades to come.

In addition to unified support from both legislative majorities and the Governor, the proposal has garnered attention from local leaders and organizations across the state. Here’s what they’re saying:

“I applaud the Colorado Legislature’s pragmatic approach to fix our state’s transportation infrastructure. Voters expect legislation like this to solve Colorado’s big problems. Northern Colorado needs a sound and reliable transportation system to quickly bounce back from this pandemic. This piece of legislation will be a catalyst not just for fixing our state’s roadways, but also for strengthening our economy,” said Fort Collins Mayor Jeni Arndt.

“The COVID-19 pandemic put many hardworking Coloradans out of a job. This legislation will act like a shot in the arm for our economy and for Coloradans who desperately need good-paying jobs. These shovel ready projects will help create a more inclusive economy for Colorado and help lift up our struggling middle class.” – Gary Arnold, Business Manager of Denver Pipefitters Local 208.

“Colorado’s transportation system needs everyone to step up and share this responsibility equally. Investments now help avoid more damaging increases later.  This legislation will save money for our kids, our communities, businesses, and economy when fully implemented” – Grier Bailey, Executive Director, Colorado Wyoming Petroleum Marketers Association.

“Having transportation in my issues portfolio and serving as chairman of the San Luis Valley Transportation Planning Region and on the Statewide Transportation Advisory Committee, the urgent need for markedly increased funding for transportation infrastructure, operations, and programming is clear. I wholeheartedly support the Sustainability of the Transportation System bill.” -Keith Baker, Commander, United States Navy (Retired) Commissioner, Chaffee County, Colorado.

“While the Action22 Board of Directors will meet later this week to take official position on the Transportation Funding Bill, we want to congratulate and thank CDOT and the Sponsors for the thorough Stakeholder outreach that took place in drafting this legislation. We acknowledge the significant effort it took to engage so many and encourage our Legislators to continue to follow this example when crafting such far reaching legislation. We appreciate the thoughtful consideration given to how the burden AND outcomes would impact ALL of Colorado – including our rural communities. We know our conversations made a difference because we saw components of the DRAFT modified based on our feedback. Again, we thank everyone for their hard work and hopefully, as Team Colorado, we can finally get this Transportation thing figured out!,” said Sara Blackhurst, President, Action 22 Board of Directors. 

“We support funding transportation and we support this bill. We applaud the stakeholder outreach process and forward-thinking components included in this bill that look toward the future of funding transportation. We know we must do more to fund transportation in Colorado and this bill provides opportunities to do that. While we have ongoing questions about specifics within the bill, we support the notion that Colorado must invest more in transportation to protect our quality of life and economy,” said Kelly Brough, President & CEO, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

“While the Grand Junction Economic Partnership is still evaluating the language of the legislation, we are encouraged by the bipartisan approach that the bill sponsors have embraced as well as their commitment to a sustainable funding solution for Colorado’s transportation challenges. Colorado deserves a better transportation system that supports economies all over the state equally and we are hopeful that this will be a much-needed solution.” – Robin Brown, Executive Director, Grand Junction Economic Partnership.

“Transportation is vital to Colorado and all our industries.  This Bill shows smart courageous leadership. An improved transportation system means safer commutes to work and school, faster response to fires and emergencies, and a cleaner environment!” -Rich Cimino, County Commissioner, Grand County District 1, CCAT Co-Vice Chair.

“As a County Commissioner in La Plata County, I am expressing full support for the Sustainability in Transportation Funding bill.  Now is the time to change the funding structure for transportation infrastructure as we take aggressive action to support multi-modal transportation, transition to EVs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, tackle a growing backlog of basic repairs and address the mobility needs of Colorado’s diverse communities.  This bill will help La Plata County achieve the vision of our Transportation Master Plan and meet our interest in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.”- Clyde Church, La Plata County Commissioner

“Our transportation infrastructure is failing and putting our economy at risk. Extra time spent sitting in traffic and navigating crumbling roads translates to a hidden tax on our small businesses and families. This is not a perfect bill but it is a step toward improving our failing system and it’s a step we should take. The cost of doing nothing is simply too high.” – Dave Davia, Executive Vice President & CEO of the Rocky Mountain Mechanical Contractors Association.

“One of Colorado’s greatest strengths is the diversity of our communities, and I’m pleased to see that this bill takes into account the varied needs of people and businesses across our state. It’s not only an investment in our roads, but in the future of Colorado and all those who call it home. I want to thank the bill sponsors and Governor Polis for their tireless work on this important legislation, and look forward to continuing this work to transform our state and build a better future,” said Mike Ferrufino, President & CEO of the Denver Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

“Thank you to Gov. Polis and the State Legislature for seizing the opportunity to go big. This transportation bill will have an immense impact when we need it most, and I couldn’t be prouder to voice Denver’s support. This plan truly is better for all Coloradans, wherever they live – and begins to pave the way for a transportation system of the future for all parts of our great state. This bill is not just a transportation bill, it’s also a jobs bill that will help drive our economic recovery,” said Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. 

“This is an excellent example of stakeholders coming together to create a solid plan with proper funding to address our many transportation issues,” said Eva J. Henry, Adams County Commissioner and Board Chair. “It’s a good balance meeting both local and statewide needs, improving transportation options in underserved areas, and helping improve our air quality,” said Adams County Commissioner Eva Henry.

“This bill is a statewide solution to one of the hardest problems facing the state,” said former Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst. “I am particularly excited about the investments this makes in new multi-modal and electric vehicle infrastructure.We need to make sure we’re making our infrastructure as green as possible, and this bill does that.”

“For some of us who have been around a long time, this bill represents our best opportunity to maintain and improve a transportation system for the future.  It recognizes that our methods of transportation are in transition and that paying for the infrastructure that makes that transportation comfortable, convenient and efficient must change also. The fees imposed are a small price to pay to ensure that Colorado can maintain a safe transportation network,” said Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar.

“Replacing gasoline-powered cars and trucks with ones fueled by clean electricity is critical to meet Colorado’s climate targets. This proposal represents one of the biggest investments in transportation electrification by any state anywhere in the country,” said Elise Jones, Executive Director of the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project.

“This bill represents a major breakthrough that would not have been possible without the leadership of the sponsors and their commitment to robust public engagement. For too long, our families and businesses have suffered due to unsafe roads and traffic congestion. This bill represents a generational opportunity to improve mobility for all Coloradans, whether it be for their daily commutes or their trips to the mountains,” said Mike Kopp, A Way Forward Chair and President & CEO of Colorado Concern.  

“On behalf of Boulder County, I am expressing full support for the Sustainability in Transportation Funding bill. Now is the time to change the funding structure for transportation infrastructure as we take aggressive action to support multi-modal transportation, transition to EVs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, tackle a growing backlog of basic repairs and address the mobility needs of Colorado’s diverse communities.  This bill will help Boulder County achieve the vision of our Transportation Master Plan and meet our goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.”-Claire Levy, Boulder County Commissioner, District 1.

“Increasing transportation funding in Colorado is a critical priority for the business community. This bill marks an important step toward securing new revenue to improve our infrastructure and investment in the future while ensuring that Colorado remains a competitive and equitable landscape to conduct business. We appreciate the many conversations to date that have ensured a balanced approach to the legislation and while we are still digging into some details, we support the increased transportation funding proposed in this bill,” said Lauren Masias, Director of the Colorado Competitive Council.

“A statewide solution for transportation funding is critical for rural areas of the state like Routt County. Thank you to the sponsors for identifying a thoughtful and creative Colorado solution that addresses our most pressing issues including investment in roads and bridges, multimodal options, and climate change.”-Beth Melton, Routt County Commissioner, District III.

“Additional investment in the state’s transportation system is long overdue. I very much appreciate the Governor, leadership and the sponsors’ hard work and meaningful engagement with a broad range of stakeholders to develop this important legislation,” said Jackie Millet, Chair of Metro Mayors Caucus.

“This bill provides more transportation options and relief for Colorado drivers. Not only does this improve the quality of life for Colorado’s families, but the projects funded by this legislation would ignite an economic recovery in Colorado, which we badly need after the pandemic.” – Tony Milo, A Way Forward Vice Chair and Executive Director of the Colorado Contractors Association.

“As a Vice-Chair of CCAT I heard concerns from all corners of the State of Colorado regarding our severely underfunded transportation system. This transportation plan addresses a multitude of concerns from road and bridge safety, multimodal, safe routes to school, and urgent climate goals for Colorado. This problem-solving approach generates critical revenue for transportation while not taking a penny from education or health care.”-Emma Pinter, Adams County Commissioner, CCAT Co-Vicechair.

“On behalf of Summit County, I cannot stress strongly enough our support for the Sustainability in Transportation Funding bill. The economic vitality of our community requires us to make significant investments in roads and bridges and the multimodal transportation necessary to support our diverse workforce.  Without this funding package I struggle to understand how we will achieve these desperately needed infrastructure improvements.” -Tamara Pogue, Summit County Commissioner 

“Eagle County has shared in the state’s struggle to adequately fund transportation that is so critical to our economy. This solution is not just bold, it is timely to leverage federal relief and infrastructure funding related to the Covid pandemic. Our need for transportation funding is critical, and the opportunity this bill presents right now is extraordinary. Eagle County wholeheartedly supports this approach to funding and implementing statewide transportation solutions.” -Matt Scherr, Eagle County Commissioner 

“And as a Broomfield City Councilmember and Transportation Committee Chair with CCAT (Counties and Commissioners Acting Together), I know it is critical to ensure my regional and local transportation systems are accessible, affordable, and non-polluting. My constituents travel to work, school, and play. Our businesses depend on trains and trucks being able to move goods. And especially for those families and businesses that are struggling to survive after more than a year of pandemic challenges, access to reliable and affordable transportation is even more essential,” Deven Shaff, City & County of Broomfield.

“Colorado is taking the necessary steps forward to build a 21st century transportation system that ensures Colorado’s economy will be stronger than before the pandemic. I know that workers across our state stand ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work supporting these important projects that will carry Colorado into the future,” said Carl Smith, SMART Union-Transportation Division.

“As a Larimer County Commissioner, I support this statewide solution that will bring much needed transportation dollars to our urban, rural, and mountain communities. The Sustainability in Transportation funding bill addresses our critical need for road and bridge funding, but also supports more sustainable transportation options that will help us address air quality issues and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. This funding bill also addresses equity and environmental justice by making key investments in disproportionately affected communities. We need this bill to move our communities forward.”-Kristin Stephens, Larimer County Commissioner.

“I strongly believe we can’t kick the can down the road any longer. Transportation can’t be a partisan issue. It is too important to the quality of life of our residents and the economy of our state,” said Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers.

“Everyone who uses the road has a responsibility to come together to improve our infrastructure and to meet the climate challenges in front of us,” said Jake Swanton, Director of Public Policy, Lyft. “That’s why we committed to reaching 100% electric vehicles on the platform by 2030 and are proud to support this important legislation that reflects that we are all in this together,” said Jake Swanton, Public Policy Director, Lyft. 

“The health of our economy depends on a functional transportation system that facilitates convenient and efficient mobility for employees and customers. We also need clean air and a healthy environment to keep Colorado an attractive location for business activity. That’s why the Boulder Chamber supports this type of balanced multimodal transportation package that invests on our roads and bridges, public transit and safe streets, and clean air for our communities,” said John Tayer, President & CEO of the Boulder Chamber.

“The City of Boulder enthusiastically supports this bill to improve mobility in Colorado while reducing harmful emissions. Our state has significant challenges to convenient transportation which affect everyone, and this bill provides a sustainable and equitable source of funding for state and local solutions. In particular, the significant investments in multimodal facilities and electric vehicle infrastructure are essential steps to provide a range of travel options, manage congestion, and reduce pollution,” said Boulder Mayor Sam Weaver.

“I wholeheartedly support the Sustainability in Transportation Funding bill as critically important and timely leadership. As a statewide solution it balances its benefit between urban and rural areas.  It provides for roads and bridges, but also transit and other multimodal solutions, and thereby helps to deliver on our responsibility to reduce greenhouse gases.  For our mountain communities along the I-70 corridor, it will deliver mobility essential to post-pandemic economic recovery, and by decongesting our highways will improve emergency response times in a confined corridor.  After a long period of inadequate state transportation funding, it is welcome relief.” -Randall P. Wheelock, Clear Creek County Commissioner, District 3, CCAT Co-Chair.

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