Date: 08/20/2009

Commission Discussion: Transportation


Votes: View--> Action Taken:

10:45 AM -- Commission Discussion: Transportation

Russell George, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Transportation addressed the commission and provided an overview of the department and a review of the blue ribbon commission report, the 2035 Statewide Transportation Plan, and the Transportation Deficit Report. The full report can be found at:

The director provided a brief history of funding sources for the state highway system beyond the county level. This started as a 1 penny tax on gasoline in 1933, and this fuel tax was the only source of funding for several years. In the beginning, the tax was able to keep pace with the need. Beginning in the 1950s, the federal interstate system also provided a fuel tax. Today, funding is still primarily from the fuel tax, and the revenue is shared by the state, counties, and cities.

Beginning in 1992 with TABOR, any increase in the fuel tax has to be approved by voters. The citizens have twice rejected an increase. Senate Bill 1 in 1997 allocated a portion of the sales tax to transportation, subject to triggers. We also draw funds from federal transportation fund (federal fuel tax) that the states contribute to collectively. This money is then prioritized back to the states for various projects. These different sources of revenue, with differing constraints, must be managed by the state's Department of Transportation.

In 2007, the department hit its historical funding high. This has dropped off afterwards, from about $1.5 billion in 2007 to roughly $750-800 million currently. Fuel tax revenue is likely the only sustainable source of revenue, however the buying power today is roughly the same as it was in 1983. Federal dollars are not predictable. The Governor's blue ribbon transportation panel suggested that the state work from what the public has told us it wants, and attempt to put a cost on these needs. The panel concluded that 500$ million each year must be spent to maintain the current system, and that an additional $1.5 billion for each of the next 20 years is necessary to meet the demand of the department's 2035 plan.

11:22 AM

Senator Heath summarized that, given the current budget shortfalls, reduced revenues, and the recommendations of the blue ribbon commission, approximately $3.5 billion a year is needed. Representative Court asked how FASTER is calculated in these estimates. Mr. George responded that the dollars from FASTER are part of each annual budget and the deficiencies in the budget will be a little smaller than it would be otherwise, without having passed FASTER. Mr. George then discussed the ARRA funding.

11:27 AM

Jonathan Coors asked what the percentage of the cost of capital projects is, as compared to the maintenance cost of that project. Mr George answered that future maintenance costs are not part of the budgeting of new projects. The transportation commission appropriates the budget for transportation, not the General Assembly. These appropriations of maintenance are prioritized separately from the construction of new projects.

Mr. Coors asked how long it can take between the decision to begin a project and when it actually can begin. Mr. George answered that this is dependant on each circumstance. Some projects are decades away, some only a few years away. Much of this is dependent on federal requirements for an Environmental Impact Statement.

Mr. Coors asked if there is a difference between state and federal roads and how maintenance for these roads is divided among the responsible (state or federal) authority. Mr. George answered that these decisions are not distinguished between the federal road and the state road. For example, the state is responsible (subject to approval from the federal government) for Interstate 25, which is essentially a local road, even though this is a federal highway.

11:37 AM

Senator Brophy wondered if our longer horizon of 20 years for the Interstate 70 corridor can be shortened. Mr. George discussed the I-70 corridor and the unique challenges of getting construction for this section planned and executed. Senator Brophy wondered what percentage of the cost is related to the National Environmental Protection Act process for Environmental Impact Statements (EIS). Mr .George responded that we have already spent $30 million on the programmatic EIS and that we are now ready to design and build. Therefore, should funding be available, things should move quickly.

11:42 AM

Renny Fagan asked if there is bonding included in the DOT budgeting for the future? Mr. George answered that all kinds of leveraging are on the table for discussion, including public/private partnerships, but the department must find sustainable and predictable revenue sources to back the leverage.

Representative Gerou asked if the department ever calculated the money we don't collect from tourist travellers? Mr. George answered yes, however tourists do pay fuel taxes. The blue ribbon panel and the department did explore tolling, even though this is unpopular in the west. Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) is another principal that is being discussed frequently. Systems can be designed that charge folks on the specific distances traveled and at what times. These ideas were in the first drafts of the FASTER bill but came out fairly quickly. VMT will continue to be discussed nationwide and, in time, may become more attractive because, as a user fee, it charges those travellers who use the system most.

11:54 AM

Senator Heath summarized the morning session. He reiterated that approximately $3.5 billion is needed each year for our infrastructure needs. Our foreseeable revenue will cover perhaps only a third of that. Our task is to find a predictable revenue stream. At each of the next several meetings, the commission will engage in a similar process for other types of state services.

11:58 AM