Recently, at the 2013 APWA Colorado Management + Conference, Move Colorado President Jeff Kullman made an in-depth presentation on transportation funding following the implementation of MAP 21. His presentation immediately followed that of Phil Washington, general manager of RTD. Fully funding transportation is critical to providing Coloradans with the mobility, freedom and safety to travel throughout the state. Jeff provided a clear picture of the state of transportation funding to help recommend a path forward for investing in a modern transportation system that Colorado families and businesses can rely on for their everyday needs.
During the presentation, several important topics critical to transportation funding were covered:
- MAP 21: one year later
- Transportation funding in Colorado
- Funding at CDOT
- Is there hope for more?
After MAP 21 was signed by President Barack Obama, there was a perception that it increased overall funding. While it did increase over fiscal year 2012, funding is lower for fiscal years 2013 and 2014 than years 2009-2011. Jeff provided a graph, which shows funding over a 9 year period. He emphasized that while MAP 21 is an important funding mechanism, it isn’t a comprehensive solution to our funding challenges.
Another increasingly critical source of funding is Public Private Partnerships and it’s an important component to MAP 21. The Colorado Department of Transportation and RTD are both currently leveraging private dollars for projects in Colorado. This helps provide a new source of revenue for projects, alleviating the impact on tax payers. Other key components to MAP 21 are that it:
- Consolidates the highway programs
- Provides environmental streamlining
- Further encourages Public-Private Partnerships
- Creates freight program emphasis
- Changes to transit programs
- Requires performance measures
Transportation Funding in Colorado
Stepping back from the national level, Jeff focused on transportation funding in Colorado. Colorado’s funding sources include:
- State Gas Tax – 22 cents/gallon … last raised in 1991
- Federal Gas Tax – 18.4 cents/gallon … last raised in 1993
- FASTER (SB 09-108)
- SB 09-228 starting in FY 15
While Colorado has added new sources of funding such as FASTER, the state’s gas tax hasn’t been raised since 1991, which is creating major challenges to modernizing our system.
It’s important to understand that even if the price of gas rises, taxes on gas don’t rise with it. Gas taxes are paid on a per gallon basis. In Colorado we pay $0.404 per gallon, no matter how high the price of gas rises. Colorado ranks in the bottom half when compared to other states. Due to inflation and the rising price of gas, the gas tax is only 6% of the cost of 1 gallon of gas, compared to 20% in 1992.
The decreased power of transportation funding sources is compounded by the fact the Colorado’s population is rising faster than we can build transportation options. Colorado’s population has increased by 53% and vehicle miles traveled has gone up 57% since 1990. Amazingly, during the same period, lane miles – a way we measure roads – have only increased 2%.
Is there hope for more?
The need for a more robust transportation system is apparent. The funding sources are under major pressure and are struggling to keep up. There are solutions, which Colorado has been considering for some time. The options have been publicly reviewed by TBD Colorado and transportation officials.
One of the most viable sources of new revenue would be to increase the sales tax by a small percentage. In a recent poll, 58% of respondents thought that increasing the sales tax by a half a cent ($0.005) was a good option. According to CDOT’s analysis, that would provide $432 million a year for transportation in Colorado, a major step forward. A small price to pay for a big return on our investment.
Where do we go next?
Jeff concluded that in order to succeed in modernizing our transportation system, we’ll have to work together through groups like Move Colorado and educate the public on the various available options. Helping Coloradans understand how their quality of life will improve with a fully funded transportation system will take time and cooperation. The results of the poll clearly show that once Coloradans have learned about the value of better roads, transit and other options, they support new ways of funding the system.
If you would like to learn more, click here to download the slideshow.
Jeff Kullman is the Transportation Practice Manager and the Office Leader for the Denver office of Atkins North America. Jeff has thirty years of diverse experience in all aspects of transportation engineering having lead organizations on both the private and public sector. He serves on the Executive Board of Adams County Economic Development and the Leadership Council for University of Colorado Civil Engineering School.