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Ballot measures to take a crack at fixing Colorado’s roads, highways

CDOT Tier 1 priority list

The Colorado Department of Transportation has a 10-Year Development Program to identify the major investment needs over the next 10 years. The program includes about 70 projects, with an overall price tag of about $2.5 billion. The department identifies these projects as having Tier 1 funding needs. Projects include fixes to Interstate 76, Insterstate 25 and U.S. 85 corridor improvements.

A full list can be found here.

After the Colorado Legislature failed to find a compromise to properly fund fixing Colorado's roads and highways, voters might have the opportunity to take matters into their own hands.

The Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver, has filed two ballot measures — one that seeks the estimated $3.5 billion to fund CDOT's Tier 1 priority list and a similar bill for a slimmer $2.5 billion. The think tank has completed the titling phase for the measures and has started raising funds for petitioning. Similar to a couple bills sponsored by Republican legislators representing Weld County, the funding would come from the issuance of transportation revenue anticipation notes, or TRANs.

Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, said the group doesn't take proposing such a debt package lightly.

"I feel that politically, this is the only way to get everybody on the same team to move forward and start fixing our roads," Caldara said. "I'm tired of our legislators not prioritizing this core function of government. …The money is there, and we just need to go ahead and build it."

But Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley, said the shortfall in transportation funding is not because of an inability to prioritize. Young, who serves on the legislature's Joint Budget Committee, said the money simply isn't there.

"We've been prioritizing, and we've been cutting in many areas. We're down to the point where we're not just cutting to the bone, in some cases we're cutting through the bone," he said.

The Colorado Contractors Association has filed six ballot measures that would increase taxes to generate the revenue for transportation funding. The measures, awaiting Supreme Court action, are similar to House Bill 1242, which didn't gain much support among Republicans.

Noticing the dissatisfaction with HB-1242's tax increase, Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, worked with Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, to craft Senate Bill 303. The bill would have authorized CDOT to issue TRANs, as well as using a specific ownership tax for vehicles in the 2010-24 model year range.

Unfortunately, Cooke and Neville's bill was introduced late in the session. The bill didn't reach the floor for second readings until the second to last day.

"Once that happens there's no way that it could have (passed) — even if (the legislature wanted it) to pass, it couldn't because of the time delay," Cooke said.

Cooke said if voters don't act on the ballot to fix Colorado's roads, they should expect to see something like SB-303 in the next session.

"I think we are going to look at it early on in the session and try and get it introduced a lot earlier than what it was this year," he said.

The bill specified where the transportation funding should go using CDOT's Tier 1 priority list. That includes fixes to the U.S. 34 and U.S. 85 interchange, adding lanes to Interstate 25 and reconstruction on Interstate 76.

Senate Bill 267, "Sustainability of Rural Colorado," includes about $1.8 billion for transportation, about $600 million short of CDOT's Tier 1 list. SB-267 also doesn't specify which projects the money is to be used for.

President of the Greeley Chamber of Commerce Sarah MacQuiddy said she hopes voters realize there's still more work to be done.

"That doesn't even come close to helping what's already been backlogged, fixing all the roads in Colorado," she said. "We don't want the voters to step back and think there are some dollars now for transportation when it's just not nearly enough."

Even the bill's supporters, including Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, and Young, added that SB-267 falls short of funding fixes to the statewide transportation problem. Caldara pointed out that the Independence Institute's ballot measures also use the CDOT Tier 1 list.

"I think voters need to know what they're going to be buying if they pass anything," he said.