Kelly Brough is the president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.
Call us crazy, but we think we should make decisions about our state based on facts and data — not slogans, finger-pointing or name-calling. We hope you will join our coalition of unaffiliated voters, Democrats and Republicans from rural, urban, mountain and suburban communities and back a real answer to our very real problems and actually improve our transportation system.
One thing everybody in Colorado agrees on — we need to fund our transportation system.
Billions in unfunded projects are sitting on the drawing board while our state becomes increasingly difficult to navigate. Our residents deserve a solution rooted in reality that will provide the relief they’re demanding.
Since 1991, the last time Colorado increased taxes for transportation, spending per driver has been cut in half, while our population has nearly doubled, and lane miles have remained static. The gas tax is a diminishing source of revenue as vehicles have become more fuel efficient and alternative-fuel vehicles have risen in popularity.
It is easy to see how this scenario results in the problems we face today. Meanwhile states such as Utah, which we compete with for talented people and high-quality jobs, have made substantial investments in their transportation systems.
Our state leaders have focused on addressing our transportation funding, but they haven’t been able to make a dent in the need. This past year, the legislature focused on this priority, but their efforts fall well short of what is needed on an annual basis for transportation. Despite claims to the contrary, there is no magical pot of transportation money sitting in a secret closet at the state Capitol.
Denver Post Editorial Board
Colorado voters are presented this year with a straightforward proposal to modestly raise taxes and, in-one-fell-swoop, fund transportation needs for the next 20 years. Now is the time to make that investment.
Colorado voters face a difficult question on the ballot this November — does the state need more money to “fix our damn roads” or simply the directive to do so with existing resources?
We dug into the numbers, and are convinced the state does indeed need additional revenue.
We urge voters to approve the sales tax increase in Proposition 110 to fund $6 billion in road projects, at both the local and state level, for the next 20 years.
It’s not an easy ask given that state revenue is growing at such a tremendous pace.
Compared to fiscal year 2017-18, the general fund revenue is expected to increase by $537 million (after $113 million is given back to taxpayers) next year, by $1.2 billion in fiscal year 2019-20 and $1.7 billion in 2020-21. Certainly there’s room in that growth to make additional investments in our transportation needs.
But we think this state deserves safe efficient transportation and adequately funded K-12 schools, higher education institutions, child welfare advocacy agencies, health insurance for low-income families, and state patrol and other public safety programs.
Our state, especially in areas away from the Front Range, needs to invest more money in education. Rural and Western Slope schools are struggling. Some have switched to four-day school weeks. Our state invests less public dollars in higher education than almost every other state, and complicated measures controlling taxes and spending, including the Gallagher Amendment, will leave the state back-filling schools and local districts hundreds of millions of dollars for reductions in property taxes in coming years.
Aurora Sentinel Editorial Board
Prop 110 was created by a consortium of businesses and consumer organizations to raise badly needed cash for roads without bankrupting public schools or forcing college students and their parents to fund roads through massive tuition hikes. It enjoys widespread support of chambers of commerce and elected officials across the state.
Deciding between this year’s two dueling transportation questions on the 2018 ballot is easy.
Prop 110, Let’s Go Colorado, asks for a small sales tax increase in exchange for $6 billion worth of desperately needed transportation improvements near your home and across the state.
Prop 109, Fix Our Damn Roads, takes $3.5 billion away from schools, colleges, public safety or other services and forces the state to build a proscribed list of projects that may not even make sense by the time Colorado gets the roads cash.
If you still have questions, read on.
Voters are being forced to choose a way to fund desperately needed transportation expansion and repairs because state lawmakers, split between two parties, can’t reach a compromise on how to pay for road projects. With rapid growth and rapidly deteriorating roads and bridges, it’s become one of Colorado’s biggest problems.
Key Republicans insist that Colorado has plenty of money to pay for road projects right now, but the state spends it on frivolous luxuries such as public schools, health care for the poor and state colleges. They’re unequivocally wrong. It’s a childish and dangerous game they play, and it’s clear not all Republicans feel the same way, just the ones currently in charge.
Colorado has long been a frugal state, which regularly ranks far toward the bottom of the list of states’ spending on roads, schools and just about everything else residents deem important.
The situation is made worse because the so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which not only forbids lawmakers from raising taxes without voter approval, mandates increased tax revenues during good years be given to select residents. So when the economy is strong like it is now, it doesn’t mean there’s substantially more money for roads or anything else.
Over 20 years of living with TABOR, the state’s infrastructure has deteriorated to nearly third-world status, rural schools have been forced into four-day school weeks and families have had to suffer astronomical college tuition hikes just to try and keep the wheels on state government in Colorado.
“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.
“When we speak about our state’s transportation needs, policymakers usually mention the additional time and cost to travelers and business. While these statistics demonstrate a critical need for additional investment in our transportation infrastructure, they fail to capture the highest cost of our inaction, which is the loss of life or serious injuries to people on our highways. While being late for work or delayed while traveling to ski is annoying, they pale in comparison to a loved one not coming home.”
The high price of inaction on our infrastructure is 599. That is the number of people who died on Colorado’s roadways in 2016.
Highway fatalities and how they grew in number in the past year were part of a broad-based advertising campaign by the Colorado Department of Transportation to make the public aware of the human toll associated with highway accidents and the importance of safe driving practices.
While this campaign may have been effective in getting our attention, the number of fatalities and injuries on our highways unfortunately rose. In fact, highway fatalities in 2016 were at their highest level since 2005 and have risen by over 34 percent since 2011.
What is the cause of this increase? Many would point rightfully to distracted driving, driving under the influence, and speeding as leading causes of highway fatalities. In looking at those factors, many view the rise in highway fatalities as an enforcement issue. One other important consideration, though that rarely gets mentioned, is how our state’s lack of investment in our transportation system may be contributing to this increase.
Shaun Egan is the President and CEO of Iron Woman Construction, which is company that is involved in transporting construction materials and environmental consulting. Egan also serves as the vice chairman of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, which represents over 600 companies involved in trucking in Colorado.
Dear Governor Hickenlooper,
Those who follow transportation funding issues were disappointed last week by passage of the well intentioned but misguided SB 197 – a bill we respectfully request that you veto.
As the voice of many organizations and entities with interests in finding sustainable funding streams for our critical transportation infrastructure, Move Colorado supports aspects of the bill that protect the public’s interest by mandating public involvement and increased reporting to lawmakers on future Public Private Partnerships, or P3s. We oppose, however, the constraints on future P3s via onerous restrictions aimed at limiting a valuable tool from an ever-shrinking transportation funding toolbox. Weakening this tool, as this legislation does, effectively eliminates it – an outcome that we find untenable.
Having witnessed the process that was the catalyst for this bill, I’m confident that key issues will be addressed as new High Performance Transportation Enterprise (HPTE) projects move forward. The best parts of this legislation provide an exceptional roadmap to live up to lawmakers – and the public’s – expectations, and can be accomplished through executive order. The worst parts are just bad policy and deserve your veto.
Let’s give your Department of Transportation an opportunity to implement these principles before imposing unnecessarily narrow leeway on which to find innovative solutions to fund transportation infrastructure.
To read the full letter, click here.
Much hard work has been done on both sides of the issue recently regarding the proposed contract between the Colorado High Performance Transportation Enterprise (HPTE) and Plenary Roads Denver, the group selected as the concessionaire for the US 36 managed lanes project.
Move Colorado and our membership stand in support of this agreement – which has been assembled and vetted through a public process spanning several years – for myriad reasons, some of which include:
Innovative funding methods such as P3s are bound to raise questions because people are unfamiliar with the concept. Move Colorado sees this as an opportunity to foster greater understanding of the intense funding challenges we face. As elected officials and industry experts, we share responsibility to talk plainly about the facts and use this as an opportunity for a broader discussion about how we solve transportation challenges in our state
Move Colorado supports a comprehensive statewide transportation policy that takes a holistic approach as opposed to the current patchwork of temporary fixes. We support a broader conversation that welcomes all parties to help set the policy that will put in place sustainable funding stream(s) that provide responsible investment in our future.
In the end, it’s not in our nature as Coloradans to avoid tough challenges. We’re a people who take these head-on. Together with all who have come to the table – Let’s get to work.
For the complete letter, click on the following link: US36 P3 Contract Support Letter
The Denver Post recently published an op-ed by Move Colorado’s executive director Melissa Osse. The letter was in response to two columns written about replacing the gas tax with a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) funding source.
By Melissa Osse
It was encouraging to see a conversation brewing on alternative sources of transportation funding in Colorado. After all, a recent report ranked Colorado’s rural and urban interstate conditions 47th and 33rd in the nation.
Post by Melissa Osse, Move Colorado executive director
There’s an ominous trend for Colorado’s highway system – it’s falling behind. According to a recent report released by Reason Foundation, “the overall condition of the U.S. state-owned highway system was in the best shape ever.” Despite that, Colorado’s system fell from 34th in 2008 to 41st in 2009, the third highest drop among the 50 states.
Colorado is a prime example of states struggling to maintain and improve its highway transportation system. The report states that, “Almost two-thirds of the poor-condition rural interstate mileage is in just five states: California, Alaska, Minnesota, New York and Colorado” (Page 3). In addition, Colorado ranked 47th for rural interstate condition and 33rd for urban interstate condition. While urban interstate condition is fairing better, Colorado’s urban interstates are among the top 15 most congested in the country.
There is a silver lining. When solid investments are made into the system, Colorado shows strength and the ability to lead the nation. As of 2010, Colorado ranks 4th with one of the lowest percentages of bridges considered deficient. It’s not a surprise – FASTER (Funding Advancement for Surface Transportation and Economic Recovery), a program supported by Move Colorado, was signed into law in early 2009 to fix structurally-deficient bridges. FASTER is now providing approximately $100 million annually for bridge improvement. The Colorado Bridge Enterprise currently manages the program and reported that as of May 2013 of the 130 bridges eligible for FASTER funding 50 have been completed.
Fully investing in our transportation system must be a top priority or we can expect to see more reports like this in the future. We’re capable of building a 21st century transportation system that provides us with mobility, freedom and economic rewards. Let’s learn from the data and take action by supporting new sources of revenue to fund transportation.
When people think of health care what comes to mind first are nurses, doctors, hospitals and medicine. Less often do people think of transportation’s connection to providing quality healthcare. Healthcare providers depend on safe, reliable transportation to deliver services to people in need. Unfortunately, declining transportation revenues are hastening the erosion of our transportation options.
Healthcare services provide more than just emergency transportation to hospitals. They serve families with a range of developmental challenges and help them with daily living, homemaking skills, employment, home modification, transportation and emergency assistance. Families depend on healthcare providers to give quality care through early intervention programs and family support services.
Getting to and from patient homes requires a team of professionals to traverse a network of roads, highways and public transportation routes. On the way, they’re likely to travel on one of the more than half of the roads in Colorado that are in disrepair. Statewide more than 52% of our roads are rated in poor condition and 33% of our highways require major rehabilitation or complete reconstruction. If our transportation budget continues with the status quo, this will only get worse.
Transportation officials have found creative ways to cope with a budget that has fallen by 30% over the last five years and even managed to make some roads safer, but the dollar can only be stretched so far. The real reason for the funding shortage is that the tax used to fund our transportation system was last increased in Colorado 1991. Now, the average Colorado driver is only spending $22.50 a month for federal and state gas taxes combined. Compare this to the average American worker who spends four times more for coffee every month ($90) than we do for the freedom of driving anywhere in the state.
Public support for increased funding will be critical to improving the system for the long-term. Move Colorado members were especially encouraged by the TBD Colorado meetings that Governor John Hickenlooper hosted across the state. During the meetings, transportation became a major topic of discussion. Polling of TBD participants from the regional meetings in June of last year indicated that an overwhelming number (over 80%) of them agreed that increasing tax revenue to invest in our transportation system is needed.
While the show of support for increased funding levels at TBD is a great start, we need your support as well. We inherited an amazing transportation system from our grandparents but it’s our shared responsibility to improve and maintain it. Our families and health care providers depend on safe transportation options that ensure quality and timely care is delivered. Please place transportation at the top of your priority list and urge your representatives to find realistic ways to invest more in the system.
Melissa Osse is the executive director of Move Colorado, an organization dedicated to building a smart, mobile and sustainable multi-modal transportation system in Colorado.