Driving for road funds | SteamboatToday.com

Driving for road funds

Transportation panel cites looming $155B gap for infrastructure needs

Brandon Gee

— The statistics are staggering.

Colorado has 126 “structurally deficient” bridges. Forty-seven percent of its roads are in poor condition. Twenty percent of them need to be completely reconstructed from the road-base up. Congestion on Interstate 70 costs Colorado businesses $800 million annually in lost productivity. And the Colorado Department of Transportation faces a $155 billion funding gap by 2030 if no new sources of revenue are established.

As troubling as these figures are, Colorado’s transportation advocates are just as frustrated by a different number. According to polls, 63 percent of Colorado residents believe the transportation system is doing just fine. As such, state legislators at the Capitol this year largely ignored the dismal state of transportation funding.

Members of the Colorado Transportation Finance and Implementation Panel presented data Thursday in Steamboat Springs. In a January report, the panel identified the $155 billion funding gap – about $51 billion of which is related just to the cost of sustaining existing infrastructure – and recommended five new funding sources it estimated would generate $1.5 billion annually.

The Steamboat visit was the 24th in a series of 25 outreach meetings by the panel. Co-chairman Doug Aden, also a CDOT commissioner, said the panel will work with politicians between Election Day and the end of the year to see “if there’s a package we can put together to advance this in the legislative season.”

Towny Anderson, president of Mainstreet Steamboat Springs and executive director of Historic Routt County, was one of about 50 people who attended the presentation at Olympian Hall in Howelsen Lodge.

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“What I hear today is a marketing and education problem,” Anderson said. “Nobody’s willing to address the issue because it’s political suicide.”

Paying at the pump

State and federal gas taxes are the primary source of money for Colorado’s transportation needs. There hasn’t been a gas tax increase since 1993. The tax is not indexed to inflation and – because it is based on the number of gallons sold – is taking a hit as vehicles become more fuel-efficient. The situation has been dubbed a “quiet crisis.”

“One of the reasons this crisis is quiet is because they have done a tremendous job with the resources we have had to make things look OK,” said Kevin O’Malley, a Clear Creek County commissioner and a member of the Colorado Transportation Finance and Implementation Panel. “The truth is, they’ve put a lot of Band-Aids on a lot of serious problems.”

O’Malley said CDOT nearly depleted its reserves just clearing ice and snow last winter.

“We have a bare-bones transportation budget, and it has started to affect Colorado’s economy, environment and us as individuals,” he said. “Almost every issue we’re dealing with is somehow connected to our transportation system.”

Steamboat resident Keith Giglio suggested panel members focus more on reducing costs than finding new money to cover increasing ones.

“Our first and best pursuit would be to eliminate any needs for transportation that we possibly can,” Giglio said. “If we move to concentrate on localizing as much of our economic development as possible, we eliminate the need to transport goods : and we enhance the (viability) of locally produced goods and services.”

Aden said the panel is supportive of new revenues coming from users of the state highway system. The panel’s five recommendations include an increase to the gas tax and adding an annual $100 “state highway maintenance fee” to the cost of registering a vehicle.

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