CDOT: State needs more money to fix roads | CraigDailyPress.com

CDOT: State needs more money to fix roads

Collin Smith

State officials concede Colorado Highway 13 needs repairs up and down. However, the Colorado Department of Transportation does not have the funding to address the problems now, and may not have it for years if extra dollars are not appropriated for transportation, officials said.

Bleak news and a hope to change the inevitable were the only things offered during a discussion of statewide transportation Wednesday at Craig City Hall.

Members of the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Transportation appeared along with Colorado Department of Transportation officials – a group of about 15 to 20 in all – and told a crowd of local residents, local politicians, state politicians and political candidates that Colorado’s roadways are bad and getting worse.

There also is no money to fix the problem.

Michael Penny, Frisco town manager and Blue Ribbon Panel member, said the goal for Wednesday’s meeting was two-fold: to show local residents the problems faced, and to encourage residents to pressure the state Legislature and the governor’s office to get something done.

“I was incredibly disappointed with the Legislature and the governor, frankly, as well, for not carrying this (cause) out and at least putting something before voters this year or doing something in the Legislature,” Penny said. “We can’t play politics with transportation anymore. This is for the good of the future of the state of Colorado.”

The Blue Ribbon Panel released five recommendations last year for funding transportation projects, two of which could be accomplished through the Legislature and three that would have to go to a vote of the people under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

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The recommendations were either to increase fees on vehicle registrations or hotel rooms and rented vehicles – which the Legislature could pass – or to raise gas taxes, sales taxes or severance taxes – which would require a statewide vote.

Penny said the Legislature started to play “D versus R politics” with the plans, and that partisan bickering kept any proposal off the Nov. 4 general election ballot.

The state needs a fix, however, Penny said.

A presentation from Doug Aden, Blue Ribbon Panel co-chairman, broke down the issues as the panel and CDOT see them.

Although 63 percent of Coloradans polled by CDOT believe the state’s roads, highways and bridges are “just fine,” CDOT would need $500 million more to keep up with maintenance and construction demands, Aden said.

Because of budget constraints, he added, the department has ceased all construction projects, and will only do some maintenance from here on out.

His presentation reported 47 percent of Colorado roads are in poor condition and 20 percent need to be reconstructed. There are 126 structurally deficient bridges in the state.

The presentation also stated the state has 70-year-old highways and 50-year-old interstates and CDOT has enough money to maintain half the statewide system.

Peter Kenney, who works with a company hired to conduct public outreach for the transportation issues, said CDOT’s $900 million budget for this fiscal year is the lowest in history in inflation-adjusted dollars.

The situation is largely the result of declining revenues and lack of support from the state general fund, he added, as well as inflation eating away at a fixed 22-cent gas tax that has not changed since 1991.

Utah and Arizona both have made transportation a state priority, Aden said, and those are two states Colorado competes with for development and business. Both rely primarily on sales taxes and have made significant progress, he said.

Moffat County resident Harry Peroulis recommended a different approach other than asking state residents to foot the whole bill.

Colorado is 52 percent federally owned, he said, and the Western Slope exports more energy to the rest of the country than it consumes.

“The state needs to get some of that (mineral) lease revenue back from the federal government,” Peroulis said. “This is not just Colorado’s problem. We’re helping the country” by opening land to energy development.

Before he spoke, U.S. Rep. John Salazar articulated his intended plans for the coming congressional session if he keeps his seat. His remarks addressed Peroulis’ idea that the federal government should take a greater share of the burden.

Salazar said he hopes to be a part of passing a “massive infrastructure construction bill” that will pump money into transportation projects across the country. He added he will work to bring projects and dollars to the Western Slope and Northwest Colorado.

Penny ended the meeting by imploring the audience to tell their state legislators and the governor that transportation is a need and show there is political will to fund transportation.

Residents may call state Rep. Al White at 303-886-2537 and state Sen. Jack Taylor at 879-3600.

Candidates for the state Legislature also include Democrat senate candidate Ken Brenner, at 846-5645; Republican candidate for state House Randy Baumgardner, at 970-509-9187; and Democratic candidate for state House Todd Hagenbuch, at 846-5607.