Our view: The unsinkable Kathy Connell | SteamboatToday.com

Our view: The unsinkable Kathy Connell

At issue

Funding $46 billion in transportation upgrades

Our view

Routt County is fortunate to have one of its own head up the Colorado Transportation Commission

Kathy Connell, of Steamboat Springs, was named chairperson of the Colorado Transportation Commission this month, and we believe her passion for people and public affairs will serve the entire state well.

No, the former eight-year member of Steamboat Springs City Council doesn’t have a magic wand she can use  to send a disproportionate share of the state’s highway budget in our direction. But she well understands that the highways of the state’s Western Slope are the essential arteries that deliver the Colorado experience to residents and visitors alike. Through Connell, our needs will be considered in Denver.

Our portion of the state has been fortunate in recent years to see major highway improvements projects to Colorado Highway 13, which links Interstate 70 in the south to Interstate 80 in the north with Craig at the crossroads with U.S. Highway 40. In addition to carrying a great deal of traffic linked to energy development between the two interstates, that two-lane highway is the route most residents of Routt County take on their way to mountain bike and hike in Fruita and Moab, Utah. 

Closer to Steamboat and South Routt, we’ve seen highway-widening projects make Colorado Highway 131 a safer commuting route. And, as you know, if you’ve driven to Denver recently via U.S. Highway 40 and Colorado Highway 9, the latter is undergoing major reconstruction south of Kremmling. It includes an innovative wildlife tunnel meant to reduce accidents attributable to collisions with deer.

That’s the good news. Our region of the state has enjoyed its share of highway projects in recent years, including that new bridge over the Elk River. But there’s no escaping the fact that the methods Colorado currently relies upon to fund highway and bridge projects are insufficient to meet our goals for modernizing the state’s transportation.

Steamboat Today cited data recently released by the Colorado Department of Transportation predicting the state will be confronted with $45.8 billion worth of transportation needs from 2016 to 2040, with only $22.4 billion in projected revenue available to fund them.

Simply put, Colorado’s transportation system is over-reliant on a flat gasoline tax to fund roads, bridges, and even, its division of aeronautics.

The gasoline tax of 22 cents per gallon has been in place for almost a quarter of a century (since 1991) and is not indexed to inflation. That state of affairs suggests we Coloradans presume the cost of constructing highways has not risen with inflation during the last 24 years. The fiscal challenge is complicated by the ironic fact that the increasing number of fuel-efficient cars on our highways generate fewer dollars in gasoline tax.

Connell is too wise to suggest restructuring the gas tax alone will solve Colorado’s transportation funding woes. And she’s ready to wager that, if you put the proposition of a new general state sales tax to fund transportation in front of drivers stuck in traffic on Interstate 70, they would sign on.

We sincerely wish her well with the task ahead.

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