“For the first time, we are introducing something that isn’t just a band-aid, but is instead a real framework to future-proof our transportation system,” Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, a Democrat from Boulder, said during a May 4 press conference at the State Capitol. “This is a big deal.”
The bill would allocate nearly $5.3 billion in funding for transportation over the next decade, $3.8 billion of which would come from a variety of new revenue mechanisms — including fees on gasoline sales, ridesharing apps, deliveries, vehicle registrations and more. Another $1.5 billion would come from the state’s general fund and federal stimulus spending.
Supporters say the bill will help Colorado begin to address a backlog of badly-needed infrastructure improvements and could help the average Colorado driver save hundreds of dollars per year in costs associated with road congestion and vehicle maintenance needs caused by inferior roads. It would also allocate more than $700 million to vehicle electrification to support the state’s goal of putting nearly 1 million electric cars on the road by 2030.
“We have a transportation crisis in Colorado,” said House Speaker Alec Garnett, a Democrat from Denver. “Our highway system is 38th in the nation. We’re 47th when it comes to the pavement condition of rural interstates.
“Coloradans are feeling the impact of our outdated transportation system when we sit in traffic, when our businesses can’t get goods to market, and our cars look twice as old as they really are,” Garnett added as other supporters of the bill looked on. “It doesn’t have to be this way, and the group of folks behind me are sick and tired of the status quo and want to see change.”
Sponsors of the transportation bill say they held 132 meetings with various groups as they worked out the details of their proposal. Mike Kopp, president of business group Colorado Concern and chair of A Way Forward, a coalition of business organizations advocating a transportation-funding deal, called the bill “an enormous step in the right direction.”
The new funding mechanisms proposed by the bill include a per-gallon fee on gasoline sales, which would start at 2 cents next year and rise to 8 cents by 2028; a 30-cent fee on rideshare trips; and a 27-cent fee on online retail deliveries.
Jake Swanton, public policy director for ridesharing app Lyft, said that the bill would allow the company to “go further and go faster” in achieving its goal of 100 percent electric vehicles by 2030. Other supporters of the bill who spoke at the May 4 press conference included Elise Jones, director of the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project and a former Boulder County commissioner, and Carl Smith, state legislative director for the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers.
“It’s rare to see people of so many different perspectives come together around something we need to do,” said Governor Jared Polis. “This bill is for you. It’s to finally fix our damn roads.”
Colorado lawmakers and advocates have tried for years to reach a deal on a major boost to transportation funding, spurred by flattening revenues from the state’s gas tax, which hasn’t been raised from its current level of 22 cents per gallon since 1991.
In 2018, then-Governor John Hickenlooper and a coalition of business groups backed Proposition 110, a ballot initiative that would have raised $6 billion for road projects, financed by a temporary sales-tax hike. Voters soundly rejected the measure, 59 percent to 41 precent.
Mayor John Suthers of Colorado Springs, a Republican, was among the opponents of Proposition 110 three years ago, but he joined Polis and state lawmakers in endorsing the forthcoming funding proposal. “I’m a political realist, and I understand political compromise,” Suthers said. “I don’t see a better package coming from the legislature or the voters any time soon, and I strongly believe we can’t kick this can down the road any longer.”
State Senator Faith Winter, a Democrat from Thornton and chair of the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee, said that the bill’s funding for electric vehicle charging infrastructure, as well as new public transit and pedestrian projects, represents “the future of what transportation is going to look like in Colorado.”
She continued: “This will help us reach our climate goals through electrification, and also by investing in multimodal transportation. We know that increasing transportation choice is essential.”
A draft version of the funding plan released earlier this year included about $700 million in new funding — 16 percent of the total — for multimodal options. That amount has drawn criticism from some environmental groups and public transit advocates.
“I appreciate the leadership that was shown today and know the bill has big multimodal and clean vehicle investments along with important maintenance dollars,” Danny Katz, director of the Colorado Public Interest Research Group, wrote in an email following the press conference. “I look forward to analyzing the bill to ensure those investments are big enough, and that we have appropriate guardrails to ensure we don’t waste any dollars on highway projects that make it more difficult to solve our state’s transportation problems.”
The bill’s gas fee has also drawn opposition from some conservative groups, including the dark-money groups Americans for Prosperity and Colorado Rising State Action, which have threatened to back a ballot initiative to cut the gas tax in response. But supporters say that Colorado can’t afford to keep spending so little on maintaining and modernizing its transportation system.
“No more U-turns, no more detours,” Polis said. “It’s time for action to fix our roads and our transportation infrastructure. … That’s what this bill, which represents years of hard work, does.”
This piece originally appeared in Colorado Newsline.