Club 20, which gathers leaders from 22 western counties to work for the interests of rural Coloradans, tackled infrastructural issues for a second day on Friday.
The conference hosted discussion groups and provided a space for committee meetings. A transportation committee meeting tackled possible ways to bring in more revenue to fix problems on rural highways and roads.
“We are in a grave situation as far as transportation funding,” said Terri Binder, the transportation chairwoman for Club 20.
To realistically improve and maintain existing infrastructure the Colorado Department of Transportation would need to bring in about $250 million annually, the committee said.
Voters might not even be aware of how drastic the issue is, said Bonnie Peterson, executive director for Club 20. She said polls showed voters were more concerned with the legalization of marijuana than how Colorado could improve and maintain roads.
Peterson said this is especially pertinent to the Western Slope.
“Forty-six percent of road-related deaths are in rural Colorado,” Peterson said. “What does that say for our visitors? What does that say for our industry?”
Also, if there were more transit options in small towns, people who are disabled or aging would have a means to stay in their communities. Fewer people would have to consider moving to metropolitan areas, said Elena Wilken, executive director for the Colorado Association of Transit Agencies.
“Transportation is the gateway to staying in your community,” she said.
But to do that, Wilken said, transportation revenue needed to be boosted overall.
Two options the committee discussed were increasing the sales tax or the gas tax. The committee generally agreed the gas tax would be a hard one to sell to voters.
“We are seeing studies throughout the U.S. that show gas taxes are not acceptable,” Peterson said.
An increased sales tax might work, said Phil Vaughn, business affairs chairman for Club 20.
“Transportation is good for everybody,” Vaughn said. “I see a statewide impact and in a lot of ways I feel like it should come from the general fund.”
The committee said they would do more polls regarding the gas tax and sales tax and passed a motion to endorse the idea of increasing revenue for transportation through a statewide measure.
Another conversation was about new restrictions on power plants and how that would affect Tri-State Generation and Transmission.
Rick Johnson, plant manager, presented on the different regulations Tri-State would need to comply with.
“When there aren’t fires in the Western U.S. our skies are clean,” Johnson said. “Craig Colorado, we got clean air. But not good enough (for new state regulations.)”
He suggested some of this pressure could be to give solar and wind power more footing economically.
“Are they really trying to improve the environment or are they trying to shut down coal?” Johnson said. “Wind is around now because of subsidies. If you're going to make a market you have to get rid of the competition.”
Johnson said that they’d need to build about 80 square miles of solar panels to match the wattage that comes from Craig’s Tri-State plant, and that even renewable energy needs gas or coal as a back-up since wind and solar can be compromised by unpredictable weather. And, he said the plant was already clean-burning so new regulations were superfluous.
“We’re going to spend $300 million and not going to see a darn difference,” Johnson said. “We have good coal in Northwest Colorado.”
Erin Fenner can be reached at 970-824-1794 or firstname.lastname@example.org