If voters pass Proposition CC today, November 5, the state government could keep certain refunds that otherwise would have to be returned to residents under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). Supporters say the measure would enable the state to “better pay for public schools, higher education, and roads, bridges and transit,” and that the funds would undergo an annual audit. But critics argue that, among Prop CC’s several problems, there’s no guarantee that the new money actually would relieve any of those chronically underfunded areas.
The Colorado Department of Transportation hasn’t identified which projects will get Prop CC money, but it has published an assessment of the state’s biggest transportation challenges and a long list of urgently needed projects.
The Governor’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting forecasts that Prop CC’s passage would increase state revenue above current limits (as per other TABOR restrictions) by about $348 million next year. The same forecast says the ballot measure would give CDOT $69.6 million in fiscal 2021 above its usual budget — but in following years, the funding is likely to fluctuate, depending on revenues collected.
Why Is Colorado’s Transportation System Such a Mess?
Colorado hasn’t raised its gas tax — a flat 22 cents per gallon of gasoline — since 1991, when its population hovered around 3.3 million. Inflation deeply eroded the fuel tax’s buying power even as the state’s population has soared to nearly 5.8 million today. Although the legislature gave CDOT a 20 percent budget boost last session, the department faces a huge backlog; earlier documents pegged it at about $9 billion, but CDOT may soon update that figure. (Uncle Sam’s transportation budget also has become unsustainable: Congress hasn’t raised the federal gas tax — 18 cents per gallon of gasoline — since 1993, yet has given every state more money than the states pay in federal gas taxes.)
Then there’s TABOR, which prevents the legislature from raising taxes without voter approval and imposes other budget restrictions. Just last year, voters rejected a pair of ballot measures that would have increased statewide transportation funding.
So What Is Prop CC's Plan?
During the last legislative session, lawmakers passed a companion to the measure that also sent Prop CC to voters. That second bill specified that any transportation funding will be put into the Highway Users Tax Fund, with 60 percent going to CDOT, 22 percent to counties and 18 percent to towns and cities.
If Prop CC passes, CDOT anticipates announcing in late winter/early spring 2020 which projects would get the additional funding. Any of the work will also “be part of the ten-year pipeline of projects currently in development as part of the statewide plan,” says CDOT spokesperson Bob Wilson.
If that’s true, then Prop CC funds should flow to ten statewide needs, including:
1. Making up for the eroded value of the state’s gas tax;
2. Helping aging Coloradans remain mobile by expanding public transportation systems;
3. Meeting the transportation needs of millennials, including bike paths, carpools and ride-sharing;
4. Allow CDOT and its local partners to design better ways for both older Coloradans and millennials to connect to public transit during the first and last miles of their commutes;
5. Increase managed lanes, similar to those used on U.S. 36 and eastbound Interstate 70 in the mountains, which charge drivers a toll to access the “fast” lane;
6. Using more “bus-on-shoulder” routes to improve transit service along congested arterials or freeways (as already occurs on parts of U.S. 36 between Denver and Boulder);
7. Ensuring that transportation projects comport with land use and economic development plans;
8. Helping communities develop the “complete streets concept,” which requires streets to be planned, designed, operated, and maintained to enable safe, convenient, and comfortable travel and access for users of all ages regardless of their mode of transportation — such as walking and biking that link to public transit;
9. Adjusting for ride-sharing businesses such as Lyft, Uber and rental scooters;
10. Preparing for new vehicle technologies, including self-driving cars.
More Specifics, Please
These general categories dovetail with CDOT’s list of specific priority projects — for now, finishing the central Interstate 70 project through Denver is at the top, with fixing Interstate 25 and expanding public transit from Denver north to Weld and Larimer counties. Just for metro Denver, other priorities includes starting or finishing work to unclog several chokepoints:
Building new bridges at I-25 and 23rd Avenue;
Widening I-25 from 84th Avenue to Thornton Parkway;
Untangling I-25 at Belleview;
Untying the traffic knots on I-225 from Yosemite to I-25;
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Finishing the third phase of I-25 through Denver and the suburbs;
Reworking the I-70 and Kipling interchange;
And coordinating with local governments to make Federal Boulevard safer from Hampden Avenue north to 52nd Avenue.
The full list continues with at least another half-dozen priorities just in metro Denver, with additional to-do lists for each part of the state.