Elected Officials Successful in Push for I-25 Grant Extension

The North I-25 Coalition, a group of elected officials from jurisdictions along the highway, asked CDOT for more time to come to an agreement on a project utilizing A $90 million RAMP grant. The CDOT Directors agreed, giving Northern Colorado until December to submit a plan. Perhaps the extra time will allow CDOT and the Coalition to come up with a viable project, on which all parties can agree, to begin the expansion of I-25. It is currently estimated that the total cost to complete the project as envisioned in the EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) would be somewhere around $938 million in 2014 dollars.

Although we might assume transportation is a core government service, in reality it does not appear to be a priority for the state or federal governments. Here is a short summary of state and federal transportation funding. While it may look like there’s a lot of money to be had, keep the cost of the North I-25 project in mind as you read.

State of Colorado Funding
The State has little general fund money allocated for highway improvements. In 2009 the General Assembly authorized SB-228 to authorize 2 percent of the general fund revenues to the State’s Highway User Trust Fund if Colorado personal income grew by 5 percent in 2012. Unfortunately, according to CDOT’s 2014-2015 budget, that projected transfer will be zero. This means CDOT relies on the State’s Highway User Tax Fund, which is comprised of fuel taxes, registration fees and other smaller revenue sources, in addition to the State’s allocation of federal Highway Trust Fund dollars. In FY 2011-2012, the State’s total transportation revenue was $1.4 billion, including federal funding.

Federal Funding
The federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF) was created in 1956 to pay for the country’s interstate highway system. The fund pays for the nation’s vitally needed road and transit projects and has operated on an 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gasoline tax that hasn’t been raised since 1993. Now it raises about $39 billion a year but is facing shortfalls of close to $20 billion annually as more efficient cars pay less into the fund while infrastructure repair costs rise. Officials estimate the fund could run short of money as early as August 2014.

Because the gas tax has not generated enough revenue, Congress has periodically passed legislation to fill the gap. Two federal programs that are commonly used by state and local officials are TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) and MAP21 (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century) programs. MAP21 was a two-year authorization that will require renewal by Congress this year.

Recently Colorado Senators Udall and Bennet wrote to the Appropriations Committee to include transportation funding in fiscal year 2015 budget for TIGER and MAP21. In the letter the Senators argue that these programs are necessary to fund improvements for I-25 and I-70.

The Obama administration has proposed a four-year, $302 billion transportation bill that would bolster the trust fund with the help of corporate tax reforms, not a higher gas tax. But this approach is already being rejected by congressional leaders as unlikely to pass this year. Increasing the HTF would seem like an obvious solution, but Congress is apparently loathe to do that in an election year.

The competition for federal funding – if it is included in the FY 2015 budget –  will be extreme. The likelihood of the North I-25 project receiving any of those dollars seems remote. It is important to continue to request for support from our congressional delegation and to remind them that I-25 is the major north/south interstate in Colorado and that the EIS was approved three years ago. If nothing happens soon, that EIS will be out of date.

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