From Colorado Politics

This was supposed to be the year Colorado’s legislature at long last did something — something big — about our state’s aging and bottlenecked transportation grid and its backlogged list of highway projects.

Yet, when the gavel came down on the 2018 session in May, it was wincingly evident lawmakers had done little more than apply a bandage.

FILE – In this April 4, 2017, file photo, traffic backs up on snowbound Interstate 25 near Colorado Boulevard in Denver. Top Colorado lawmakers say they have struck a deal on transportation funding. The compromise would ask voters in 2019 to borrow $2.34 billion for transportation projects. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

Sure, epic promises were made and endless debate was taken up by lawmakers who had labored days and some nights on a transportation compromise to suit both parties. And still, the highest praise that the finished product, Senate Bill 1, was able to garner was that it represented a good first step.

The upshot: Once again, future legislative sessions have their work cut out for them on this never-ending issue. And the same goes for Colorado’s next governor, whom voters will elect this November.

Which is why we felt this was an opportune point — as voting gets underway in a crowded gubernatorial primary election — to ask the eight contenders in both parties what they would do to address the state’s transportation woes.

We asked each candidate to shape up a commentary (only GOP candidate Greg Lopez didn’t respond to our request), and their input spans the known spectrum from more tax dollars to cutting waste.

Read on — and see who you think offers the most feasible, and plausible, solution.

Coloradans who commute on South I-25 every day or utilize I-70 to travel to the Western Slope and experience the beautiful public lands Colorado has to offer are all too familiar with the unbearable traffic on Colorado highways,” Gardner said, adding that the grant money would improve the lives of Coloradans once the projects are complete.

The Denver Channel

Image of Denver and busy street with traffic leading to the city.

Two of the state highway projects Colorado officials have put at the top of their project list are now fully funded after receiving millions in federal grant money, the state’s two senators announced Tuesday.

Sens. Michael Bennet (D) and Cory Gardner (R) said in a Tuesday news release that El Paso County has been granted the $65 million it had sought to widen I-25 between Monument and Castle Rock.

The money comes in the form of an Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant and will be put toward putting an additional express lane in both the north- and southbound portions of the highway. There are also $35 million in local funds pledged toward the project in addition to other money.

The Colorado Department of Transportation was also awarded a $25 million INFRA grant to add another lane to Interstate 70 through Clear Creek County just west of Denver—a stretch of highway that consistently sees heavy traffic.

“It is a good day around here,” said Tamara Rollison, a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Transportation, of the fully-funded projects.

She said construction on the I-25 gap project could begin as early as August, as the funding was anticipated to come through. The I-70 project is still in the study phase, Rollison said, and construction is expected to start sometime in the summer of 2019.

Read on…

MoveColorado is a member of the Colorado Coalition #LetsGoColorado

“It really means that if you’re going to impact people’s quality of life, you need to make investment,” Brough said.

The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and a large coalition of groups from around Colorado will push to get a .62 percent, 20-year sales tax increase on this fall’s ballot, asking voters to fund billions of dollars worth of transportation infrastructure projects.

The ballot measure is meant to address a shortfall in transportation infrastructure investment that has become a pressing issue for business and civic leaders who are concerned that traffic congestion and inadequate infrastructure will undercut Colorado’s economic growth.

“Our research says they’re ready,” said Kelly Brough, president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

The coalition will pay for gathering at least 160,000 signatures, which is expected provide cushion enough to meet the state requirement for 98,492 current registered voters to get the measure on this fall’s ballot.

If successful, 45 percent of the revenue raised by the tax increase would back up to $6 billion in Colorado Department of Transportation bonds for state highways. Another 40 percent of the new tax revenue would be split between counties and municipalities around the state for transportation projects, and the remaining 15 percent dedicated to transit and multi-modal projects.

Read on…

A bipartisan statewide coalition of business leaders, mayors and transportation advocates announced Friday it will gather signatures to place a 0.62 percent sales tax increase to invest in Colorado’s transportation system on the November ballot.

“This coalition has been working together for years to secure badly needed funding for transportation. And after another legislative session that failed to meaningfully address the issue, it has become clear that the citizens of Colorado have no choice now but to take this issue into our own hands,” said Mike Fitzgerald, president and CEO of the Denver South Economic Development Partnership. “As a business community we never want to see taxes increased unless it is absolutely necessary. We are now convinced that it is absolutely necessary.”

Coalition members highlight the decades-long revenue shortage for transportation combined with population growth as driving the need for new revenue.

“Maintenance and construction for our state highways are funded by a gas tax, which hasn’t been raised in over 25 years,” said Tony Milo with the Colorado Contractors Association. “When you combine that with population growth, we are spending less per driver on our highways today than we were in the 1990s.”

According to state budget documents, the Colorado Department of Transportation currently has a $9 billion backlog of projects across the state. In addition to funding for state highways, a key component of the coalition’s plan would provide funding for local projects across the state as chosen by local communities, including alternative means of transit.

“It’s about time we make a serious investment in our transportation infrastructure. Our roads are literally crumbling beneath our feet,” said Christian Reece, executive director of Club 20, an association of counties on the Western Slope. “This initiative is a responsible and modest approach to provide an immediate solution before our infrastructure goes from bad to worse.”

“Coalition members said they decided on sales tax to provide the new revenue, in part, because tourists, conventions and other visitors to the state will help pay a significant part of the tax. Every year 80 million people visit Colorado and use our roads; this approach will allow them to leave a little something behind to help us out,” said Kelly Brough, president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Coalition members said they would begin circulating petitions immediately.

Quotes from key coalition partners from across the state follow:

Jackie Millet, Republican Mayor of Lone Tree:

“Our transportation crisis in Colorado extends from our state highways to local roads. This ballot initiative is a modest increase in the state sales tax, and it will do a lot to address the congestion caused by growth.”

Dan Gibbs, Democratic Summit County Commissioner:

“If we’re ever going to solve our transportation problems, we need to move away from the gas tax and make sure our communities have the resources they need to meet demand. This initiative will have a big impact on our mountain communities and rural Colorado by directing more resources where it really matters: improving our streets, highways and transit options so it’s easier and safer to get around.”

Cathy Shull, Executive Director of Pro 15:

“Our failing transportation infrastructure isn’t just a Denver problem, it’s a problem that affects every part of Colorado. This ballot initiative was developed by leaders from Fort Morgan to Grand Junction. This is a bipartisan solution that will repair and improve our infrastructure in a way that benefits every part of the state.”

Joe Kiely, Ports to Plains Alliance:

“Colorado’s economy directly depends on a reliable statewide transportation system. This ballot proposal addresses both local and regional problems across our state so that Colorado maintains its competitive edge.”

Cindy Dozier, Republican Hinsdale County Commissioners:

“Colorado has been underfunding transportation for decades because we’re using a funding source that just can’t keep up while the need continues to grow. Speaking as a rural county commissioner, I believe the only way we’ll be guaranteed that our local roads and highways will get the repairs they need is by going to the ballot and dedicating new revenue to this critical priority.”

Margaret Bowes, Executive Director of the I-70 Coalition:

“It is absolutely necessary we make a meaningful investment in our roads. Our failure to invest over the last 25 years is impacting our quality of life and costing us money in traffic congestion delays, traffic accidents and damage to vehicles, lost gas efficiencies and it’s only getting worse.”

Rachel Richards, Democratic Pitkin County Commissioner:

“We need a statewide transportation system that works for rural and urban Colorado. The state highways and local roads that connect our communities and support regional economies are in dire need of repair. This initiative goes a long way toward addressing those problems and provides the flexibility that local communities need to address their challenges

by Denver Post

“The only problem is the Colorado Department of Transportation doesn’t have the money to start construction.”

Westbound express toll lane also part of proposal

Colorado transportation officials on Tuesday released plans costing up to $550 million to improve the westbound Interstate 70 bottleneck at Floyd Hill by adding an additional lane and even building a tunnel to keep cars moving.

The only problem is the Colorado Department of Transportation doesn’t have the money to start construction.

The proposal, though, gives CDOT a jumping off point to address the growing congestion problems along the I-70 mountain corridor from Denver to ski country.

CDOT says it has been working with local elected officials and stakeholders to develop the concept unveiled this week, which they say would accommodate more westbound travelers.

State and federal highway officials have been working with a team of stakeholders, including representatives from Idaho Springs, Clear Creek County, Jefferson County, ski resorts and the general public, since signing a “2011 Record of Decision” about the I-70 mountain corridor and the Floyd Hill study area, said Stacia Sellers, CDOT communications manager.

The plan calls for I-70 to be reconfigured with simplified curves, bridges and walls to improve line of sight and driver safety. That would come in the form of a tunnel at the bottom of the interstate near Idaho Springs and a widening of the westbound lanes from two to three.

Read on…

ColoradoPolitics

“As they say, if this were easy… The reality is that we have ignored infrastructure for too long. For years, infrastructure advocates have been squeezed out of the budget in favor of other priorities. The issue has now become dire. Our lack of infrastructure is costing money, putting safety at risk, and will eventually stifle our economy.”

Think of Tony Milo as Colorado’s Lorax. Only, instead of speaking for the trees like the fabled Dr. Seuss character, Milo advocates relentlessly for the state’s infrastructure.

As executive director of the Colorado Contractors Association, he is the point man in the perennial push for more funding to highways, bridges and other wide-ranging public works. And almost since taking the helm at the association in 2005, Milo has been forewarning policy makers of the long-term consequences of letting backlogged upgrades to our transportation grid languish on the drawing board.

The transportation-funding compromise hammered out by lawmakers in the closing days of the 2018 legislature is a good start in chipping away at that backlog, Milo tells us in today’s Q&A. But it’s just that — a start — and he says much more far-reaching policy initiatives are needed to truly tackle transportation.

Read on…

by Colorado Politics

None of the Republicans in the state House supported it earlier in the day, but Senate Republicans collected a unanimous vote Thursday night to send a bill to the governor that will eventually put almost $3 billion into the state’s beleaguered transportation system.

Image of Denver and busy street with traffic leading to the city.

Senate Bill 1 puts $495 million into roads, bridges and alternative transportation this year, $150 million next year then allows the state to borrow $2.3 billion to be repaid over the next 20 years, tapping the state general fund for $122.6 million a year. Granted, only about $50 million a year is new money, with the rest coming from previous legislation and existing tax dollars that go to the state highway department.

But it sounds good to advocates to finally see a legislative commitment to quick cash and ongoing money to a state transportation system the Colorado Department of Transportation says is in need of $9 billion in the next decade and $20 billion over the next 20 years.

”While the funding provided to transportation is short of where we could have been, politics is the art of the possible,” said Sandra Hagen Solin, who represents Fix Colorado Roads, the coalition driving the funding discussion for years. “Since the beginning, we’ve advocated from that point of view. Today, Senate Bill 1 passed a split legislature and is what was possible this year.

“And for that, we are grateful.”

Negotiations haven’t been this fruitful in recent memory, however you add up the money.

Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, has been at the forefront of negotiations for the past two sessions, Last year, Republicans on a Senate committee killed House Bill 1242, which Grantham co-sponsored, that would have asked Colorado votes to pass a half-cent sales tax. The compromise was announced to reporters in his office on Monday, with House Speaker Crisanta Duran at his side.

Read on…

by Colorado Public Radio

After years of staying in their separate lanes, Colorado’s top lawmakers may have found a way to merge together on a big issue: how to pay for the state’s transportation and infrastructure needs.

House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, and Republican Sen. President Kevin Grantham, R-Cañon City, announced a deal Monday that opens the door to asking voters for new transportation bonds. It would also allow for a surge of spending on transportation projects over the next two years.

“This is not what would be the ideal for either one of us,” said Grantham, nodding to Duran. “We are in a split legislature and sometimes that’s when we do our best work, when we have to look at the other side and come up with solutions that fall somewhere in between.”

Duran agreed the plan proved lawmakers could overcome political divisions.

“We are continuing to show through our actions that we can bring people together in Colorado and that we can get things done for the people of our state,” said Duran.

The plan includes $495 million for transportation projects this fiscal year and $150 million next fiscal year.

Read on…

“It is time to solve Colorado’s transportation crisis. For too long, the issue has been avoided or ignored, while our state has seen massive population growth. Due to our growth without action, we are seeing more traffic accidents, more congestion and growing costs to doing business in our state. That’s why we are writing you to urge you to pass Senate Bill 1 – the compromise transportation funding measure that passed the State Senate with a unanimous 35-0 vote.” from letter sent by two dozen business groups House and Senate leaders Tuesday

by Colorado Politics

With a week left in the legislative session, Colorado House Democrats are poised to introduce a major overhaul to a transportation bill that passed the state Senate unanimously more than a month ago.

The change is significant. Rather than asking for permission to borrow $3.5 billion and repay it with $250 million a year from the state budget, as the Senate agreed to, House Democrats want a pay-as-they-go proposal that doesn’t threaten money for education.

Democrats are concerned that locking in that amount of money to repay bonds each year would mean less money for schools and social services in an economic downturn.

“We felt that Senate Bill 1, as it currently is, is like buying a new house without getting a new job first and saving for it,” said Rep. Faith Winter, D-Thornton, chair of the House Transportation Committee. “We’re mortgaging our future.

“This (amendment) is a responsible way to show the voters in the state of Colorado and everyone else involved that we care about transportation.”

The Democrats’ amendment would use $495 million already set aside in this year’s budget, then pledge $166 million from the budget for each of the next five years. But lawmakers would not be bound by the agreement.

The state also wouldn’t borrow any money under the proposal.

Sandra Hagen Solin, a government relations strategist at law firm Kutak Rock who leads the statewide business coalition called Fix Our Roads, said the proposal means the state can’t invest in major projects such as widening interstates, which is a priority for those stuck in traffic jams on interstates 25 and 70.

“With growth in the economy this year, we’ve got the necessary funds to have an aggressive strategy for transportation,” she said.

Read on…

“BUILD transportation grants will help communities revitalize their surface transportation systems while also increasing support for rural areas to ensure that every region of our country benefits,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has announced a replacement for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grants, a program popular with state and local agencies.

On April 20, DOT published a notice of funding opportunity for $1.5 billion through the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development discretionary grant, or BUILD, program.

Although BUILD would replace the TIGER program, the two bear some similarities. Like TIGER grants, BUILD money would be awarded on a competitive basis to local or regional entities. The funding would support roads, bridges, transit, rail, ports or intermodal transportation.

“BUILD transportation grants will help communities revitalize their surface transportation systems while also increasing support for rural areas to ensure that every region of our country benefits,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said.

According to a notice on DOT’s website, applicants will be assessed on the basis of safety, economic competitiveness, quality of life, environmental protection, innovation, partnership and additional nonfederal revenue for future transportation infrastructure investments.

Read on…