Denver drivers are certainly familiar with the sad state of the city’s roads. Congestion slows down daily commutes, and Denver’s potholes are notoriously common — and large.
A new study highlights the effects of shoddy road conditions, which are costing motorists more than $2,300 per year in the form of “higher vehicle operating costs, traffic crashes, and congestion-related delays.” TRIP, a nonprofit transportation research group, put together the report, which reveals just how dire the crisis actually is. According to TRIP, 40 percent of roads in Denver are in poor condition, meaning that the pavement is “uncomfortable with frequent bumps or depressions.” These roads, in addition to sucking money from drivers, are also costing lives, wasting time and potentially pushing business away.
“Lives are on the line. Our future is on the line,” said J. Skyler McKinley, director of public relations and government affairs at AAA Colorado, at a press conference at the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce today, June 28.
Nearly 400 motorists were killed in accidents in Denver between 2014 and 2016. According to the TRIP study, the lack of certain roadway features, such as lane markings, rumble strips and guardrails, “are likely a contributing factor in approximately one-third of fatal traffic crashes.”
Less tragic but still painful for Denver commuters is the time spent stuck in traffic. On average, they lose 52 hours annually to congestion.
The $7.1 billion annual cost is broken down into $3.1 billion in congestion-related costs, $2.1 billion in costs related to crashes and other safety issues and $1.9 billion in vehicle-operating costs.
The average motorist will lose $2,306 per year to car repairs and to time lost in congestion.
Those same motorists will spend 52 hours per year stuck in traffic jams.
Denver Business Journal
Backers of a proposed sales-tax hike to fund transportation needs latched immediately onto the study from TRIP, a Washington D.C.-based transportation research organization that advocates for safety and increased efficiency. Mike Fitzgerald, president and CEO of the Denver South Economic Development Partnership, said after a news conference that the research clearly show that more work is needed than can be funded with the state’s existing resources.
Rocky Moretti, TRIP director of policy and research, said his organization, which is funded by a coalition of transportation advocates from across the country, said his organization decided to dig into Colorado’s roadway issues both because it is a growing state and because it’s a state that has grappled in recent years with how to pump more investment into its infrastructure. The Colorado Legislature this year allocated $645 million in new funding to roads and transit and approved asking voters in 2019 for permission to sell $2.3 billion worth of bonds for transportation — but only if neither of two initiatives from outside groups passes on this November’s statewide ballot.
Among the many numbers that TRIP compiled for the study, one that jumped out the most to Moretti was the fact that vehicle miles traveled in Colorado grew 11 percent between 2013 and 2016 — the sixth-greatest rate of growth in the country. That demonstrated both the state’s economic vitality that is attracting a growing population and the urgency that is needed to fix roads before their upkeep falls too far behind the needs of its citizenry.
“We clearly see there’s an ongoing need in Colorado that has yet to be addressed,” Moretti said. “So, we’re happy to educate residents about those challenges.”
Learn more: https://www.letsgocolorado.com/
Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Diane Schwenke said her biggest concern is if the measures fail and larger cities around the state decide to pass their own taxes to go toward roads in their jurisdictions.
Grand Junction Sentinel
Michael Lewis, who was appointed in November as the executive director of the state Department of Transportation, spoke remotely during the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce’s quarterly luncheon, providing an overview of the state’s road systems and outlining some possible solutions should potential initiatives make the November ballot and be approved by voters.
“We have the opportunity this fall to address the issue for the next 20 years,” said Lewis, who was slated to be at the luncheon in person until his flight was canceled earlier in the day. “It’s a great opportunity.”
The 45-minute presentation outlined the potentials for the “Fix Our Damn Roads” initiative and another that would increase sales tax across the state by 0.62 percent to pay for transportation. Backers of both measures are in the process of gathering signatures and must turn in enough by August to get on the ballot.
The “Fix Our Damn Roads” initiative would allow the state to increase its debt by $3.5 billion and pay for transportation projects out of the general fund. It is being led by the Independence Institute. Initiative 153, the sales tax, is led by a coalition of businesses. When asked why the effort is geared toward raising sales tax instead of the gas tax that already funds road projects, Lewis said the gas tax tends to poll poorly and more energy-efficient cars could make an increase less effective.
Lewis also discussed Senate Bill 1, which was recently signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper and commits $495 million in 2018 with a promise of an additional $150 million next year to road projects. It would also add a potential ballot measure for roads in 2019 should neither of the two initiatives pass in 2018.
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.
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.
“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
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.
MoveColorado is a member of the Colorado Coalition #LetsGoColorado
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.
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
The chamber leads a statewide coalition proposing one of three potential requests to voters: for 0.50 cents, for 0.62 cents or a full penny, Chamber President Kelly Brough told Colorado Politics.
She said which question amount would depend on the state revenue forecast that comes out in mid-March, as well as the outcome of the current legislative session; lawmakers are considering legislation to put more money from the state budget into transportation.
“We think it’s important to find out what the state can contribute before we finalize what the right number is to ask voters to finish the work,” she said.
The half-cent sales tax is expected to raise about $500 million a year — 45 percent for interstates and state roads, 40 percent for cities and counties and 15 percent for transit.
Colorado’s state sales tax is one of the lowest in the country, 2.9 percent, but municipalities can tack on as much as they can get voters to approve to support local needs.Thirty-seven municipalities in the state already have effective sales tax rates of more than 8 percent, led by Winter Park at 11.2 cents and Silverton at 10.4. The proposed sales tax would land on top of existing taxes.
To get on the ballot, the measure needs 98,492 signatures in six months, which represents 5 percent of the total votes cast in the last secretary of state’s race.
House Bill 1242 and Senate Bill 267, two top issues are on life support, their sponsors say
The Colorado legislative session’s top priority, a major transportation bill that seeks a tax hike to improve and expand highways, is unlikely to win approval this term.
Senate President Kevin Grantham, a Cañon City Republican and one of the prime sponsors, announced Thursday morning that he does not have the votes to move it through the GOP-led chamber.
“At this point, we can’t count to three,” he said, describing the number of votes he needs to advance it through the Senate Finance Committee next week.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) is introducing legislation that would nearly double the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gas tax to help pay for road and transit projects around the nation.
Carper’s bill would increase the gas tax by 4 cents per year for the next four years, resulting in a 16-cents-per-gallon increase by 2020. The legislation would offer tax credits to offset the impact of the gas tax hikes on drivers, according to Carper’s office.
The Delaware senator said the failure of Congress to pass a long-term transportation bill this summer showed it is time to raise the gas tax, which has not been increased since 1993.
“At a time when gas prices are some of the lowest we’ve seen in recent memory, we should be willing to make the hard choice to raise the federal gas tax,” Carper continued. “To balance the 16-cent cost of a gas tax hike, I’ve suggested making permanent certain expiring tax cuts that will directly benefit hard-working Americans.”
Under Carper’s legislation, known as the TRAFFIC Relief Act, drivers would ultimately pay 34 cents per gallon in federal gas taxes, in addition to state taxes.
Transportation advocates have pushed for a gas tax increase for years to close an approximately $16 billion annual shortfall in infrastructure funding that has developed as cars have grown more fuel efficient.
The current tax of 18.4 cents per gallon brings in about $34 billion per year. The federal government typically spends approximately $50 billion in funding per year, which transportation advocates have said is barely enough to cover the repair needs of the current U.S. infrastructure system.
The shortfall has resulted in Congress failing to pass a transportation funding bill that lasts longer than two years since 2005.
If the gas tax were to have been indexed to inflation since it was enacted in 1993, drivers would be paying about 30 cents per gallon on their gasoline purchases now.
Carper said the repeated highway spending patches have shown there is no better solution to the transportation funding problem than increasing the gas tax.
“The trust fund we use to pay for our roads, highways, bridges, and transit systems has been broken and has needed fixing since 2008, but Congress can’t seem to get the job done,” he said.
“America has funded transportation systems, including the entire Interstate Highway System, with the gas tax for 83 years,” Carper continued. “Inflation, fuel-efficient cars, and other factors mean we don’t take in as much money as we used to, yet the need to maintain and improve our transportation systems hasn’t dropped. In fact, most experts argue we need to be doing more.”
By Keith Laing