Don Hunt, the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Transportation, spoke to a group of business and government representatives at a meeting hosted by our region’s Transportation Commissioner Kathy Gilliland. Hunt reminded participants that Coloradoans pay 40 cents a gallon in state and federal gas taxes created to fund highway infrastructure but the revenues generated by those taxes peaked five years ago. He pointed out that CDOT has little funding for new capacity, with only $50 million allocated each year for capital expansion.
Transportation funding is problematic for our region both in terms of highway and local enhancements. For example, Gilliland said the expansion of I-25 from Longmont to Fort Collins would cost at least $2.2 billion – with $1 billion of that cost allocated to rail. The only way the project will ever get funding is via federal grants, which involve a very competitive grant process.
Gilliland and Hunt encouraged the business sector help educate the public on the cost of transportation, its role in economic development why we need additional funding. In Pennsylvania, for example, the business community played a key role in promoting a successful state ballot measure to fund highway improvements. However, during Northern Colorado’s most recent effort to create a funding mechanism for transportation – the regional transportation authority (RTA) initiative in 2007 – it was not the business community that failed to step up. Local governments could not reach consensus on how sales tax revenues should be divided and what projects should be funded in the area’s diverse communities.
Hunt suggested that the General Assembly could mandate the creation of five RTAs in Colorado, which would follow the boundaries of the existing metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs). He believes that a legislative solution might encourage local governments to work more cooperatively. Mayor Cecil Gutierrez of Loveland vigorously opposed that suggestion, saying mandates would never work in our region. The Mayor could be correct; however, it’s been five years since the last RTA initiative. How long will it be before there is enough public pressure for another attempt?