The Fight for Transportation Funding for the Northwest Region

 

At Commuting Solutions, we are proud to be a part of a community that cares for our environment, makes conscious efforts to improve the air quality for all and frequently takes advantage of multimodal commute options. Not only is the northwest metro region a leader in transportation initiatives in the state, but also the nation. This summer, we shared the success of CDOT’s US 36 Express Lanes Project and continue to celebrate the record number of cyclists who use the US 36 Bikeway, commuters who have found a stress-free commute on the Flatiron Flyer and drivers who have enjoyed faster commute times due to the US 36 Express Lanes and a record number of riders are traveling by rail on the B Line. While these multi-modal projects have been a smashing success, significant regional transportation funding needs remain.

RTD Representative shares insights into RTD’s strategic business plan.

One of the hardest questions we are frequently asked is surrounding the unfulfilled promise of RTD FasTracks’ Northwest Rail and the Northwest Area Mobility Study’s arterial Bus Rapid Transit funding. Recently, we had the pleasure of hosting Heather McKillop, RTD Chief Financial Officer at our September Membership Meeting. To put things bluntly, there simply is not enough funding for the needs of our community, nor will there be for many years. During McKillop’s presentation, she shared that currently the FasTracks Internal Savings Accounts will be depleted by 2023 and there is no funding available to replenish the account for our region. In addition to a lack of available monetary resources, the projects face additional roadblocks:

Construction and operation of currently unfunded corridors
Completion of on-going projects
Sales and use tax volatility
Financing capacity and funding constraints

While the prognosis for funding is dim, Commuting Solutions will continue to fight for transportation investments in the northwest metro region, advocate for projects agreed upon and supported by RTD in the Northwest Area Mobility Study and investigate new sources of funding to help meet the needs of our growing communities.

Free Passes for “HOV Only” Drivers

Free Passes for “HOV Only” Drivers

Switchable HOV passes are now available for free for drivers that travel on the I-25 and US 36 Express Lanes and plan to only use those passes for carpooling!

Previously, the transponders cost $15 for all drivers, but CDOT and HPTE made the change to make carpooling easier for those who are dedicated to that mode of travel. If drivers plan to use any of the other Colorado tolled facilities like the I-70 Mountain Express Lane, E-470 or Northwest Parkway, or if they use their pass in Toll mode on the US 36 and I-25 Express Lanes, they are not eligible for the free pass.

Drivers who receive the free pass must drive in HOV mode at least once in the first six months after receiving it in order to remain an HOV Only account. If drivers do not use it within six months, use the pass in Toll mode, or on a tolled facility, they will be charged the cost of the switchable HOV pass. In addition, HOV Only drivers must have a driver and at least two passengers to use the Express Lanes for free under the new HOV 3+ rule.

For questions about your account, the HOV Only account and pass or to find the pass that works best for you, contact ExpressToll at expresstoll.com or (303) 537-3470.

Dead end for gas tax shouldn’t end search for fixes

By Denver Post Editorial Board
February 7, 2017

It’s no secret in Colorado that our state and federal gas taxes aren’t able, by far, to keep up with the demand for new roads and the upkeep of those already in place — and often clogged with traffic.

So we hope Coloradans pay attention this session to various efforts afoot to fill the gap. As thousands of newcomers move to the state each year, the strain on our transportation infrastructure will only increase, and there just isn’t the money available to pay for it.

One straightforward fix appears hopelessly out of the question. As The Denver Post’s Brian Eason recently reported, polling by the influential Colorado Contractors Association, which has for years supported raising taxes to support our struggling transportation system, shows little appetite among voters for raising the gas tax.

“We’ve done quite a bit of polling over the last two years and have found that the prospect of voters increasing their own gas tax is very slim,” said Tony Milo, of the contractors group.

“They are actually much more open to some other types of taxes than they are to gas taxes.”

And little wonder. Asking voters to increase that tax, especially when those dependent on gasoline-powered cars know that their hybrid and electric driving cohorts would largely escape the increase, does seem foolhardy.

The news comes as Republican and Democratic lawmakers are considering going to voters this November to increase sales taxes to fund transportation spending. Should voters approve a tweak to the 2.9 percent statewide sales tax by 0.5 percent, as much as $514 million could be raised in the next fiscal year.

We’ve long bemoaned the fact that the gas tax, which was last increased in 1991, isn’t doing the job. As Eason reports, advances in fuel efficiency combined with inflation have eroded the power of the tax significantly. The 22-cents-per-gallon tax pulls in 30 percent less than it did in 2000.

What does that really mean? Consider that back in 1991, the state spent about $125.70 per person a year on transportation. By 2015, the state had added 2.1 million people, who are driving 2.6 billion more miles than in 1991, spending per person had dropped to $68.94.

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How the political mood at the Capitol shifted toward a tax hike for roads

Republicans and Democrats are negotiating a deal to pump money into roads, but opposition is mounting

By Brian Eason and John Frank, The Denver Post
January 22, 2017

Colorado needs $9 billion to improve roads and alleviate traffic congestion in the next 10 years — a number so large that state lawmakers are entertaining a once-unthinkable solution: a tax hike.

Democratic and Republican leaders are negotiating a measure for the November ballot to increase taxes and generate billions of dollars for transportation projects across the state, including the expansion of Interstate 25 north and south of Denver and Interstate 70 through the mountains.

The early discussions represent a significant shift in the political mood at the Capitol, particularly in a state where all tax hikes must go to the voters and conservative forces hold immense influence. The proposal, most likely a sales-tax increase, is expected to include other tax cuts in the first years as an offset.

If the legislature referred a statewide tax hike to the ballot, it would be the first of its kind in 25 years.

The only other tax hike that lawmakers put on the ballot since the approval of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) in 1992 was Proposition AA in 2013 — which voters essentially sanctioned a year earlier with the passage of a constitutional amendment legalizing recreational pot sales.

Sandra Hagen Solin with Fix Colorado Roads, an organization pushing for a deal, said lawmakers are realizing “that the public is increasingly becoming frustrated with the transportation system.”

“It’s remarkable that the conversation is occurring,” she continued. “And I think that’s why we are encouraged by the potential of a solution being brought forward before the session ends.”

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Colorado governor calls for tax ballot measure to address transportation

By Brian Eason and John Frank, The Denver Post
January 12, 2017

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper on Thursday called for lawmakers to put a measure on the November ballot that asks voters for a tax hike to improve roads and expand transit, setting the bar for one of the top debates this session.

“We’ve had this debate for too long,” the Democrat said in his annual State of State address. “If talk could fill potholes, we’d have the best roads in the country.”

The governor’s 38-minute address also featured a forceful rebuttal to Republican efforts in the nation’s capital and Colorado to dismantle the federal health-care law and Medicaid expansion, pledging he would “fight for a replacement plan that protects the people who are covered now and doesn’t take us backward.”

In a political twist, he pushed for states to retain more control on the issue: “I think most of us would agree that the last thing we want is Congress making all of our decisions around health care,” he said.

The defense of the Affordable Care Act drew hoots and hollers from Democratic lawmakers and icy stares from Republicans in one of the more divisive moments in a speech Hickenlooper had billed as unifying.

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Prioritizing 2017 as the Year for Transportation

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Governor Hickenlooper delivers keynote address at 8th Legislative Breakfast

As Governor Hickenlooper stated at the 8th Legislative Breakfast, transportation is an economic driver. It determines the movement of our state’s goods and the movement of people to tourist destinations and employment centers.

Funding for this vital aspect of our state’s economy is at an all-time low and is a key focus for elected officials entering the 2017 legislative session. And it is not just elected officials who are focused on transportation funding, the private sector is raising their collective voice in support of developing new mechanisms for transportation funding. Accessibility (meaning an effective multi-modal system and roads that are well maintained) ensures that new businesses invest in Colorado and that our workforce remains strong.

Colorado is a growing state, but maintains a healthy competition against our neighbor to the west—Utah. Compared to Colorado, Utah has half of the population, more than 700 miles of lanes and similar outdoor offerings. Without an effective transportation system that is well maintained, Colorado could face losing revenue as young entrepreneurs look to Utah (currently Colorado has a $9 billion transportation funding deficit). Both elected officials and private-sector leaders understand that to keep Colorado competitive transportation needs to come first—the question is, where does the money come from?

Building a sustainable, reliable multi-modal system is a priority for our state’s elected officials and so is developing a stable funding mechanism. At the 8th Legislative Breakfast, Senator John Cooke presented two possibilities for increasing transportation funding: an increased gas tax or a sales tax. To ensure that sales tax is applied to transportation, safeguards would need to be in place and the public would need to be involved in the conversation. As Representative Diane Mitsch Bush noted, the public needs to understand issues as well as the legislators working on them. For transportation funding to go into effect, the public needs to understand the significance of transportation and the investment that their tax dollars make.

Learn more about the policies Commuting Solutions and the US 36 Mayors & Commissioners Coalition support, and stay in touch with Commuting Solutions as we prioritize 2017 as the year for transportation!

Commuting Solutions is a shining example of multi-modal success, showing clearly how we can reduce congestion , improve economic opportunity for all, protect and improve our environment, and help make our communities more resilient.  – Representative Diane Mitsch Bush

Carpoolers Need Three to Ride for Free on CDOT’S HOV Express Lanes

Jan. 3, 2017

Carpoolers Need Three to Ride for Free on CDOT’S HOV Express Lanes
I-25 and US 36 Express Lanes are now HOV 3 +  

DENVER – The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and the High Performance Transportation Enterprise (HPTE) today remind carpoolers that CDOT’s High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) Express Lanes is now HOV 3+. The change began Jan. 1, 2017 and HOV 3+ equals a driver and at least two passengers.

The change affects the US 36 and I-25 Express Lanes, two corridors that offer free carpooling in the Express Lanes. The move to HOV 3+ is needed to provide uncongested travel now and in the future on the Express Lanes as well as to provide funding to help offset costs of the lane including operations and maintenance.

CDOT and HPTE are working with the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG), the Regional Transportation District (RTD), Smart Commute Metro North, Commuting Solutions, North Front Range Metropolitan Planning Organization (NFRMPO), Lyft, Uber and others to help people find and use additional ways to carpool or take other modes of transportation. To explore different options, visit the HOV 3+ solutions website here. Drivers also always have the option of driving in the free general purpose lanes.

Carpool purists, drivers who use their Switchable HOV Transponder in carpool mode only, will be able to receive the $15 transponder for free in spring 2017 as another way to ease the transition. Drivers can get a Switchable HOV Transponder at ExpressToll.com.

Learn more at expresslanes.codot.gov.

About Express Lanes: Express Lanes increase roadway capacity and help to manage congestion on the highways. The use of toll pricing during peak travel times reduces delays, manages congestion and maintains reliable travel times. Express Lanes are currently open on I-25 between downtown Denver and 120th Avenue, US 36 between Denver and Boulder, and on I-70 between Idaho Springs and Empire.

About CDOT: www.codot.gov

About the High Performance Transportation Enterprise (HPTE): The HPTE operates as a government-owned, independent business within CDOT. It searches out innovative ways to finance projects to help Colorado fulfill its commitment to increase travel choices through options that include Express Lanes, transit, biking, walking and carpooling. For more information, visit www.coloradohpte.com.

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8th Legislative Breakfast will focus on transportation issues

Dec. 19, 2016
Staff report, Northglenn Thornton Sentinel

Commuting Solutions and the Northwest Chamber Alliance (a coalition of the Broomfield, Boulder and Longmont chambers) will host the 8th Legislative Breakfast on Jan. 5 from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. at the Omni Interlocken Hotel. The purpose of this year’s event is to convene public and private stakeholders around the Northwest region’s transportation priorities during the 2017 legislative session.

The 8th Legislative Breakfast will provide a collaborative environment for businesses, governments and transportation agencies to discuss the future of the Northwest region, especially as it relates to potential state legislation to prioritize transportation.

“Transportation is becoming a paramount issue for businesses, especially when it comes to recruiting and retaining employees,” said John Tayer, President and CEO of the Boulder chamber. “Businesses that are highly accessible become desirable employment hubs and ultimately increase a region’s population, economy and quality of life.”

Economic development also is a focal point of this year’s breakfast.

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