CEO Roundtable: Transportation officials call state’s ‘patchwork’ funding an economic liability

WINDSOR  — A group of transportation leaders in Northern Colorado believe it’s time for players in the region to fund local highway improvements on their own instead of waiting for state or federal support.

The group, a mix of private sector business owners and heads of local transportation groups, spoke at a BizWest CEO Roundtable event in Windsor Tuesday morning.

Participants in BizWest’s CEO Transportation Roundtable. From left, Roy Otto, city of Greeley, Jeff Jensen, Warren Yoder, Weld County Garage, Suzette Mallete, North Front Range MPO, Sandra Hagen Solin, Capitol Solutions, Jason Licon, Northern Colorado Regional Airport, Mark Jackson, city of Loveland, Heather Paddock, Colorado Department of Transportation, Eric Zubrigen, Flood and Peterson, Barbara Kirkmeyer, Weld County Board of Commissioners, Mike Dellenbach, Dellenbach Motors, Sabrina Nowling, Flood and Peterson, Cooper Anderson, Weld County Airport, Drew Mattox and Brandon Harris, Plante Moran, Bryan Watkins, Elevations Credit Union, Tom Donnelly, Larimer County Board of Commissioners, David May, Fort Collins Chamber of Commerce. Not pictured: David Maxey, Maxey Cos.

 

I-25, East-West Corridors

 

Workers are in the middle of a billion-dollar I-25 project to install a dedicated bus and express toll lane alongside the two lanes currently on either side of the median.

“There’s some interchanges that are going to be rebuilt, and as part of this, a lot of the bridges are getting replaced,” said Heather Paddock, Region 4 tranportation director for the Colorado Department of Transportation.

But multiple officials said the region will likely need a “three plus one” setup, or three open lanes and one express lane, to accommodate future population growth. That “three plus one” option could cost an additional $600 million to $700 million over at least three years of construction, Paddock estimated.

U.S. 34, the key east-west interchange between Greeley and Loveland, is almost at capacity right now and doesn’t appear to have the same support for repairs that I-25 has despite Greeley’s meteoric growth projections.

“The dollars are just not there,” Paddock said. “It’s discouraging to look at what I have funded for the (U.S.) 34 projects.”

Loveland public works director Mark Jackson said that stretch of road is one of the most-accident prone in Greeley and Loveland, and it’s having an impact on the business areas near the highway. The two cities are putting funds toward improving the roads themselves.

“It’s reaching a critical mass point where you are seeing local starting to pony up, and that’s tough, because that takes away from the rest of the system,” he said.

 

Finding dollars

Proposition CC, a statewide initiative on the ballot this November, would provide some funds toward transportation. If passed, the measure would allow Colorado to retain excess tax revenue that it would normally refund under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) and split that evenly into public schools, higher education and transit projects. State economists expect upward of $100 million to each category through the 2022 budget year if voters approve it.

Carl Maxey, CEO of Maxey Cos, is skeptical of the proposition because he thinks voters may view the funding problem settled if they release TABOR refunds toward transport projects. Instead, he said the state has to look at general fund dollars or raising the gas tax.

“The conversation within your groups of peers and associates should be, do you fully recognize that your individual contribution to the transportation system is so inadequate in the way Colorado addresses it?” he said.

David May, president and CEO of the Fort Collins Chamber of Commerce, said several local groups have put up funds to repair I-25, but it’ll take much more to close the funding gap for the highway.

“We’re open to bake sales at the Chamber of Commerce, all the way to someone here writing a check for the $350 million to finish the gap,” he said.

Warren Yoder, chief revenue officer of Weld County Garage, believes there’s support in the business community for a gas tax increase, while Mike Dellenbach, CEO of Dellenbach Motors in Fort Collins, said a hike in the gas tax or vehicle registration fees would be more palatable than incremental increases in the state sales tax.

“All of these little sales taxes all add up, and people start to think, ‘Another sales tax? I’m not voting for that,’” he said.

But a gas tax could be moot if Colorado follows Gov. Jared Polis’ roadmap to become a 100 percent renewable energy state by 2040, which could dramatically reduce the number of gas-powered cars in the state and drag revenues down with it.

Greeley city manager Roy Otto suggested the answer might lie in tapping the renewable industry for revenue, which would be a shift away from that sector’s current subsidized position.

“What are the thoughts on taxing renewables to fill that gap?” he said.

 

Statewide problems

Sandra Hagen Solin, CEO of the lobbying firm Capitol Solutions, said there’s public support for raising taxes to rebuild roads, but that ask is much harder when it appears the state isn’t willing to consistently put more tax revenue toward it.

“Before voters say raise our taxes, they want to know that the state has its skin in the game,” she said.

The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates 22 percent of Colorado roads are in poor condition. That widespread problem, compounded by other budget priorities like health care and education, is creating fierce competition from local governments outside of the Front Range angling for state dollars, said Suzette Mallette, executive director of the North Front Range Metropolitan Planning Organization.

“That’s what makes them tough; there’s a very limited amount of funding that you’re going after, and across the state, you have corridors just as important as I-25,” she said.

Barbara Kirkmeyer, chair of the Weld County Board of Commissioners and a candidate for State Senate District 23, said local governments are letting Polis and the state legislature “off the hook” for maintaining the network of roads that allow commerce to flow through freely through the state.

“They’re critical infrastructure to the state’s economy and the state’s well-being,” she said. “So why the Joint Budget Committee, why the General Assembly, why the governor can’t say that we are going to have a consistent amount of funding go toward critical infrastructure in this state in an annual basis is beyond me.”

Tom Donnelly, a Larimer County commissioner, noted that almost half of Fort Collins residents commute to jobs outside of the city, and that number increases for residents of every other town in the county. He said the answer to fixing and expanding roadways in Northern Colorado is going to come down a joint regional effort.

“The state’s not coming to save us, the federal government doesn’t appear to be coming to save us on a transportation front,” he said. “We’re all going to have to work together on this issue, I think, the issue of our future.”

 

Airports

Northern Colorado Regional Airport director Jason Licon said the airport is halfway through writing a new master plan, one that includes adding air traffic control via a virtual tower and the return of commercial service via Allegiant Airlines.

He said the plan, which is due to be completed by February, should be a road map to re-evaluating what role the airport has in the region’s economy.

“It matters to me about the airline service and the future of the airports as it relates to what the  market, what the demand is within the region, and how we might be able to accurately capture that, you know, one of the key is really understanding that market,” he said. “Number two is really good planning.”

Weld County Airport manager Cooper Anderson said his airport isn’t in the running for much financial support from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration because of its size, but it can self-fund much of its improvement projects through selling mineral rights on the property.

He views the airport as a key resource for businesses, especially manufacturers, because private planes are able to quickly take off and land on the relatively less busy runways.

“The more emphasis we put on attracting more businesses here, the better off the airport will be,” he said.

 

Plante Moran, Flood and Peterson and Elevations Credit Union sponsored the Roundtable.

WINDSOR  — A group of transportation leaders in Northern Colorado believe it’s time for players in the region to fund local highway improvements on their own instead of waiting for state or federal support.

The group, a mix of private sector business owners and heads of local transportation groups, spoke at a BizWest CEO Roundtable event in Windsor Tuesday morning.

Participants in BizWest’s CEO Transportation Roundtable. From left, Roy Otto, city of Greeley, Jeff Jensen, Warren Yoder, Weld County Garage, Suzette Mallete, North Front Range MPO, Sandra Hagen Solin, Capitol Solutions, Jason Licon, Northern Colorado Regional Airport, Mark Jackson, city of Loveland, Heather Paddock, Colorado Department of Transportation, Eric Zubrigen, Flood and Peterson, Barbara Kirkmeyer, Weld County Board of Commissioners, Mike Dellenbach, Dellenbach Motors, Sabrina Nowling, Flood and Peterson, Cooper Anderson, Weld County Airport, Drew Mattox and Brandon Harris, Plante Moran, Bryan Watkins, Elevations Credit Union, Tom Donnelly, Larimer County Board of Commissioners, David May, Fort Collins Chamber of Commerce. Not pictured: David Maxey, Maxey Cos.

 

I-25, East-West Corridors

 

Workers are in the middle of a billion-dollar I-25 project to install a dedicated bus and express toll lane alongside the two lanes currently on either side of the median.

“There’s some interchanges that are going to be rebuilt, and as part of this, a lot of the bridges are getting replaced,” said Heather Paddock, Region 4 tranportation director for the Colorado Department of Transportation.

But…