‘Gravy train has come to an end’ for fed highway funds

Debi Brazzale / Colorado News Agency
Aug 10th, 2011

Vaad-1State lawmakers were left grappling with the realities of funding transportation projects after being told Tuesday at the Capitol that reliance on the federal government to help pay for the state’s transportation needs may be a thing of the past.

In a presentation to the Transportation Legislative Review Committee, the Colorado Department of Transportation got quickly to the point, delivered by CDOT’s Chief Financial Officer Ben Stein.

“I will venture to surmise that the gravy train has come to an end,” said Stein. “They’ve been passing out more money than they’ve been collecting through gas taxes,” said Stein. “We are going to be more reliant on state funds than ever. Relying on federal revenues to sustain the system going forward, given what we’re all seeing in Washington today, and their history, is not something that I would bet on. ”

Department Director Don Hunt said Colorado needs to look inward.

“We aren’t going to get bailed out here by the federal government,” said Hunt. “There’s no way.  It’s up to us as a state to be the state that we want to be.”

One possible way for the state to wean itself off federal dollars is to begin looking at alternatives to the gas tax, Hunt said. Approximately 18 cents per gallon of gas sold goes to the federal government and 22 cents  goes to the state, he said. Colorado may want to consider more pay-for-use scenarios such as tolling, he said.

“We don’t have the policy yet, but one of the things we’re thinking about is wherever we are able to add capacity to a state highway, should it be free? We’re at that point,” said Hunt.

Hunt told the panel that tolling, which is already in use on some roadways, helps pave the way for expansions such as on U.S. 36, where the goal is to have dedicated lanes in both direction for car-poolers or toll-paying vehicles. Hunt said a tolling revenue will cover about a third of the project’s cost.

Meanwhile, with just over 50 percent of the state’s roadways deemed by the Transportation Department to be in poor condition, committee chair Glenn Vaad, a Republican state representative from Mead, said Colorado drivers are looking to the department for answers. Vaad noted the state’s motorists already are paying gas taxes and added vehicle registration fees.

“I hear from colleagues and constituents about the conditions of roadways. They want to know–does the department recognize what’s happening to the roadway system?” said Vaad.

Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, asked about money that had been set aside by the provisions of a measure, Referendum C, passed by the voters in 2005 allocating revenue to K-12 education, higher education, health care and transportation.

“It was kind of a windfall to transportation,” said Fischer. “A lot more money went into the general fund for transportation than backers anticipated.  I’m wondering how much of Referendum C money, percentage-wise, went to transportation as opposed to some of the other things it was intended for.”

Legislative Council staffer Kate Watkins responded that it’s difficult to calculate how much of that revenue stream has actually gone into transportation.

“There is some difficulty in really identifying what revenue from Referendum C went where, and a lot of it has to do with the fungibility of money,” said Watkins. “Basically we don’t know exactly where the Referendum C dollars go.”

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1 Response for “‘Gravy train has come to an end’ for fed highway funds”

  1. [...] Colorado News Agency reported that Watkins recently appeared before the Transportation Legislative Review Committee. [...]

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