Colorado civic and government leaders should keep their feet on the gas when it comes to measures to boost transportation funding in the state.
Gov. John Hickenlooper deserves praise for supporting and signing a measure that will pump $645 million into Colorado transportation projects in 2018 and 2019. While it makes up for only a fraction of the estimated $9 billion shortfall for needed transportation projects in the state, the Denver Business Journal’s Ed Sealover notes correctly that the new funding represents an important milestone as the biggest increase in transportation funding in a decade.
Hickenlooper signed the measure — Senate Bill 1 — May 31, in Big Thompson Canyon outside Loveland, where the 2013 floods wreaked havoc with U.S. Highway 34, and where major road work has been ongoing ever since.
But anyone who travels on the state’s highways, including Interstate 25 through Northern Colorado, I-70 through Denver or — increasingly — U.S. Highway 34 between Greeley and Loveland, will recognize that far more needs to be done.
Gridlock already takes over on vast stretches of highway, and it will only get worse with expected increases in population, especially in Adams, Larimer and Weld counties, as well as the Denver metro area.
In the end, voters will decide how much value they place on transportation improvements. Two competing transportation-funding measures could wind up on the ballot this November, with one involving a tax increase and bonding authority. That measure, Initiative 153, is supported by the Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce and the Colorado Contractors Association. It would hike the state sales-and-use tax by 0.62 percent for 20 years, taking the rate to 3.52 percent beginning Jan. 1.
The Colorado Department of Transportation could issue up to $6 billion in bonds as part of the measure, putting a big dent in the funding shortfall.
The other measure, Initiative 167, would allow the state to issue $3.5 billion in bonds, but would requirement repayment of the debt service with current revenue streams. That measure likely would result in drastic cuts to other parts of the state budget, perhaps as much as $5.2 billion, according to the Colorado Association of Commerce & Industry.
For our part, we believe that congestion has gotten so severe that voters are likely to support something aggressive. They — like we — are tired of sitting in traffic.