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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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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Mike Foote: U.S. 36 and corporate veto power

Representative Mike Foote, The Daily Camera
Dec. 29, 2016

Corporate influence over our government is widespread and nowhere more apparent than on our highway to Denver.

Much has already been written about the coming Jan. 1 change on the U.S. 36 managed lanes from HOV 2 to HOV 3. I do not agree with the change, nor do many of Boulder County’s elected officials. But here’s the problem: it doesn’t matter what we think and it doesn’t matter what you think. That’s because the impending change was included in the contract signed four years ago after closed-door negotiations between state officials and the Plenary Group, the company that built the managed lanes and now collects the tolls charged to those who drive on them without a passenger or (soon) two.

In its public statements and telephone town hall meetings, the Colorado Department of Transportation and its High Performance Transportation Enterprise maintain that the HOV 3 switch is designed to keep the managed lane from getting too crowded. That’s true, but only half of the story. The 2013 contract called for a switch to HOV 3 in January 2017 regardless of how crowded the lane was at the time. Any modification of that predetermined date would be a breach of contract and subject the state to massive penalties. In other words, we must switch to HOV 3 in 2017 even if the managed lane were as empty as a gym on New Year’s Eve.

The Plenary Group was not elected or appointed, of course, but it has more power over a public highway than any citizen, legislator, or even the governor.

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Louisville’s Commuting Solutions appoints 2017-18 board members

Dec. 29, 2016
By Anthony Hahn, The Daily Camera

At Louisville-based Commuting Solutions’ annual meeting on Dec. 13, members of the transportation-focused group approved the recommended board members for 2017-2018 service term.

Joining the Board of Directors are Gina McAfee, of HDR Engineering; Rob Zuccaro, of Louisville; Shawn Lewis, of Longmont; Heather Cracraft, of the Superior Chamber of Commerce; and Tushar Udeshi, of Google, according to a news release on Monday. The new board members’ terms will begin Sunday and end Dec. 31, 2018.

“We are fortunate to have such a diverse and knowledgeable Board of Directors guide our organization as we continue to address regional transportation issues,” Audrey DeBarros, executive director of Commuting Solutions, said in a statement.

During 2017, the Board of Directors will be led by the following board officers: Chairperson David Driscoll, of Driscoll Rose LLC; Vice Chairperson Kathleen Bracke, of the city of Boulder; Past Chairperson Debra Baskett, of the city of Westminster; Treasurer Ken Hotard, of Boulder Area Realtor Association; and Secretary Chris McShane, of Colorado Business Bank.

Northwest Chambers Plan Legislative Forum on Transportation

by Christopher Wood, BizWest
December 20, 2016

BROOMFIELD – Commuting Solutions and the Northwest Chamber Alliance, a coalition of the Broomfield, Boulder and Longmont chambers, will host the 8th Legislative Breakfast from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m., Thursday, Jan. 5, at the Omni Interlocken Hotel in Broomfield.

The event will 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,” John Tayer, president and chief executive of the Boulder Chamber, said in a press release. “Businesses have a growing voice in transportation planning, as effective transportation leads to increased economic growth.”

The forum will include legislators such as House Majority Leader KC Becker; Sen. John Cooke, Senate Transportation Committee vice chair; and Rep. Diane Mitsch-Bush, House Transportation & Energy Committee chair. They will discuss the priorities most important to their regions.

Additionally, the U.S. 36 Mayors & Commissioners Coalition and Commuting Solutions will present their 2017 legislative policy agenda.

Gov. John Hickenlooper will deliver a breakfast keynote address, with regional business leaders and elected officials also making presentations.

The cost to attend is $75 for members of Commuting Solutions, the Broomfield Chamber, the Boulder Chamber and the Longmont Chamber and $90 for non-members. Registration can be completed through Jan. 4 here.

Boulder County Sees Chilly Reception for Switch to HOV 3 on U.S. 36

By Alex Burness, The Daily Camera
December 17, 2016

Starting New Year’s Day, the express lanes of U.S. 36 will require cars to carry three passengers — up from the current two — to qualify as high-occupancy vehicles and enjoy the toll lane for free.

But the switch from HOV 2 to HOV 3, which also applies to express lanes on Interstate 25, is not a response to any particular problem on the highway.

It’s been almost 18 months since toll lanes opened as part of a nearly $500 million expansion project on U.S. 36 between Boulder and Denver, and, by several key measures, the ride’s been a smooth one for all modes involved.

Across all lanes, speeds are up about 30 percent during morning rush hour and 20 percent during the evening rush.

RTD’s new Flatiron Flyer bus fleet is meeting its average required speeds: 55 mph from Boulder to Broomfield and 50 mph from Broomfield to Denver

And the HOV 2 threshold hasn’t resulted in any kind of imbalance that would threaten the purpose of the toll lane — a faster ride for buses, carpools and paying customers, and less congested main lanes. On U.S. 36 and I-25, the Colorado Department of Transportation reports, HOV cars make up about a quarter of all toll-lane vehicles.

In fact, the change from HOV 2 to HOV 3 is being made mainly in the name of revenue.

The state transportation department accomplished the U.S. 36 expansion through a first-of-its-kind (in Colorado, anyway) public-private partnership with the infrastructure investment company Plenary Group.

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Transit-oriented development taking root around B Line’s Westminster Station

By Emilie Rusch, The Denver Post
November 12, 2016

The commuter rail line connecting Westminster and Denver Union Station may not have received the same fanfare when it opened this summer as its airport-bound sibling, but developers have already begun to lay claim to the land around the only new station on the 6.2-mile B Line.

City officials hope that Westminster Station, near West 70th Avenue and Federal Boulevard on the city’s south side, could someday become more than a Park-n-Ride but the center of a vibrant mixed-use, transit-oriented district.

“Originally, RTD was just calling for a surface lot,” city economic development coordinator Jenni Grafton said. “But we knew the potential, not only because of how close it is to downtown but as a real catalyst for redevelopment in south Westminster.”

To that end, $75 million in public investments in the station and surrounding area — $40 million of which came from the City of Westminster — are nearing completion, highlighted by a new, 40-acre park south of the train platform spanning all the way from Federal to Lowell Boulevard.

When completed next spring, Westminster Station Park will host regional trail connections, nature play areas, a 14-foot-widepedestrian bridge, restrooms and a new road. Little Dry Creek was realigned through the site, lowering the flood elevation and creating a 2.5-acre flood control pond that will later be stocked with fish, senior projects engineer Seth Plas said during a tour last week as part of the Urban Land Institute’s TOD Marketplace conference.

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