Colorado senate bill puts ‘minor hail dent’ in $9 billion worth of transportation funding needs
“Our state is one of the worst-funded transportation systems in the country,” Summit County assistant manager Thad Noll told the Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday. “We don’t even have enough money to put restrooms in our rest areas.”
That’s right; CDOT doesn’t even have enough money for port-o-potties. It’s a budget reality Dave Eller, transportation director for CDOT Region 3, wants the public to be more aware of.
Eller, speaking during CDOT’s quarterly meeting with the county, said the public might have a false impression of transportation funding being taken care of when they hear about funding bills being passed.
One such example is SB18-001, which passed on May 17 and is now awaiting Gov. John Hickenlooper’s signature. The bill commits half a billion to transportation. But Eller pointed out that the money comes in installments and does not address a long-term funding solution.
“All it does is call for a public vote in 2019 about whether to approve a bonding program or a sales-tax increase that will fund transport long-term, but even that might not happen if the legislature changes,” Eller said. “There are no guarantees, but a lot of ‘ifs’ and ‘maybes.'”
Eller added the funding SB 1 provided isn’t even close to what’s needed just to tackle the existing CDOT project backlog, let alone major new projects.
“With SB 1, CDOT ends up with roughly $400 million over the next couple of years,” Eller said. “But we have identified immediate projects that need to be done, not pie-in-the-sky big ticket items, and they cost $9 billion over the next 10 years. SB 1 puts a minor hail dent in that backlog.”
Noll listed several significant local projects included in that backlog.
“Those immediate needs in our zone are work needed on the gap between Frisco and the hospital, improving access at Exit 203, an auxiliary lane to 205, a re-do of the Silverthorne interchange. We also need a climbing lane on the west side of Vail Pass, which is the most dangerous pass for truck crashes. Lot of projects that are planned, but are not happening unless we get some dollars for transportation.”
Eller urged commissioners and other local officials to use local projects as a way to sell a long-term funding solution. He suggested that Summit County and other towns and counties start drawing up lists of projects that could use the funding before the initiative is put on the ballot.
If voters approve a bonding package or sales tax increase, Noll said that 45 percent of funds would potentially go to CDOT, while towns and counties each receive a 20 percent chunk of that funding to work on local “multi-modal” transport projects, which could include improvements for biking and pedestrian access. Voters could be enticed to pass the initiative if they see tangible benefits from the funding in their own neighborhoods.
“When you think of ballot this fall, you have to think half the money goes to locals,” Eller said.
Commissioner Dan Gibbs said that Summit County is especially in need of infrastructure improvements as the county sees more visitors as a result of the state’s population boom.
“We’re now expecting 100,000 new people coming to the state annually,” Gibbs said. “As a snapshot, that’s about the size of Boulder or the size of Greeley coming in every year. A lot of those people wind up visiting here and it’s already putting a big strain on us. At places like Quandary Peak, we’re seeing tremendous resource damage from overuse. We need all those dollars.”