State road funding vision out of step with public
The state issues committee of the area chambers of commerce, the Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance, commissioned a statewide transportation poll in mid-April.
The findings are interesting and reveal a disconnect between state leaders and the general public.
First, the public clearly recognizes the growing problem with Colorado’s highway system. Eighty-nine percent of respondents believe Colorado’s roads and bridges are in desperate need of maintenance and repair. Eighty-one percent believe Colorado’s roads are too congested and are in dire need of additional lanes and capacity.
The public is sending a powerful message to the governor, state legislators and transportation officials: The highway system is under-performing.
Seventy-five percent of respondents believe state government should find the money to fund transportation projects in the current state budget by changing spending priorities or finding ways to save money.
The public’s message to state leaders is that transportation is a priority and we expect you to make room for it within existing resources.
Even so, we did test some sources for new transportation funding.
The poll asked voters whether they would support increasing the state gas tax to fund transportation projects. A small majority said yes, with 52 percent in favor and 45 percent opposed. This might appear encouraging to proponents of increasing the tax, but starting with support that low for a ballot measure means it’s a guaranteed loser as support erodes as details are shared.
Voters were asked if they would support a $20 increase in license and car registration fees to fund transportation projects. Forty-two percent support this, 54 percent do not.
Regarding tolling, 64 percent support tolling Interstate 70 between Denver and the Eisenhower Tunnel to add an additional lane in each direction. The opposite is true on the north part of Interstate 25: 46 percent support an additional toll lane each direction between Fort Collins and Longmont while 52 percent oppose such tolling.
The most promising source of transportation funding would be the issuance of bonds. In 1999 voters approved the sale of what are known as TRANS bonds. The proceeds accelerated construction of projects around the state including the T-Rex project in south Denver and widening parts of I-25. The program operates using existing gas tax revenues and not an increase in taxes.
When voters were asked if they would consider continuing this program when it expires in 2017, 61 percent said yes.
With that encouragement, we asked the Colorado General Assembly to refer a measure to the ballot this fall to let voters consider the TRANS bonds idea. The measure passed the Senate but legislative leaders in the House defeated it at the request of the governor and CDOT.
It appears they want “new money” — such as a tax increase — and want to shift a big part of the interstate and highway system toward tolling and management by private vendors.
We’d like to support the governor and CDOT in finding resources to fix critical bridge and highway needs, especially the growing problem on north I-25. At the moment, however, their vision and plans are unclear and out of step with the public. Until they articulate a reasonable plan and build public support, we are headed towards more congestion.
Column originally published with The Fort Collins Coloradoan May 7, 2015