2018 could break back of highway inaction

The year 2018 is shaping up to be a critical year for realizing measurable progress on widening north Interstate 25 and addressing Colorado’s transportation funding needs.  In a matter of weeks, the Colorado Department of Transportation’s contractors will break ground on Phase One of the North I-25 Express Lanes Project. The project is the result of a unified commitment by local leaders, CDOT and our business community through the Fix North I-25 Business Alliance, to work collectively to secure the money necessary to make interchange improvements and add an additional lane. Phase One will provide a temporary third lane in both directions of North I-25 between Colorado Highway 402 south of Loveland and Colorado Highway 14 in Fort Collins.  Meanwhile, stretches of North I-25 south of Loveland still lack the funding necessary to build a permanent — or even a temporary — third lane in both directions.  We await word from the federal government about a grant award that can be matched by other CDOT funds to provide another $300 million for that stretch of interstate.  RELATED: UCHealth, Uber partner to provide discounts While this patchwork approach to funding North I-25 is delivering progress, securing the additional $1 billion plus necessary to achieve full buildout of the North I-25 corridor depends upon action by our legislative leaders and governor at the Capitol. Transportation has been a diminishing priority for state leaders over the past decade.  Since the Great Recession ended in 2009, state government revenue has grown by more than $4 billion — only $350 million of which has gone toward highways. In a similar 10-year period prior to 2009, more than $2.2 billion of general fund revenue was dedicated to transportation. No wonder our roads are failing us!  And, CDOT has a $9 billion backlog of transportation projects statewide — including North I-25. While the picture of the past is dire, a convergence of factors has presented a unique window of opportunity for our state leaders to make truly meaningful investments in transportation now. The Colorado economy is growing, which means state revenues are growing. In mid-March, state economists predict a whopping $1.3 billion in new revenue since last year’s budget. Transportation funding should be at the top of the spending priority list. Senate Bill 18-001 currently sits before the Colorado Legislature and would direct $300 million of general funds to the state transportation fund. The bill would also refer a measure to Colorado voters to approve $3.5 billion of transportation bonds using the new general fund money to secure the bonds. Passage would accelerate critical transportation projects across Colorado and make a significant dent in CDOT’s estimated $9 billion of unfunded needs. On the heels of the state revenue forecast, Gov. Hickenlooper asked the Legislature to allocate $500 million of that new revenue to transportation on a one-time basis. While this is a bold and commendable step, one-time funding isn’t enough. Committing to permanent, predictable and reliable transportation funding from the general fund is imperative. Adding urgency to our…

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