Gov. John Hickenlooper and Don Hunt, executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation, have done a great job in scraping together and freeing up state funds for transportation improvements. They came through again Friday.
Hickenlooker and Hunt unveiled a plan called Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships (RAMP), and it means Coloradans will see accelerated availability of $300 million each year in transportation funding for the next five years.
It spells opportunity for much-needed improvements in and near Colorado Springs, but politicians throughout the region will have to defend our interests.
“Very optimistic this region is going to benefit,” said Les Gruen, who represents this region on the Colorado Transportation Commission.
The program contains the word “acceleration” because this is not money in addition to anything we had ultimately planned for. The funding comes from pent-up state funds we did not anticipate using soon because transportation officials were building up a reserve.
The reserve was needed because Congress, throughout the recession, has placed the future of the federal gas tax in question.
In July, after a series of short-term extensions, Congress passed a two-year extension of the Surface Transportation Act — which determines how much funding states receive — and a four-year extension of the gas tax.
The more permanent extensions of federal funding mean Hickenlooper and transportation officials are less interested in building and maintaining reserves and more comfortable embarking on urgent projects.
The challenge for Colorado Springs will involve obtaining a fair share of the funding in a state political environment that heavily favors the I-70 corridor through Denver and ski country.
As RAMP was announced, eight proposals were viewed at a Department of Transportation technology forum for building high-speed transit through the I-70 mountain corridor as a means of easing congestion. These are not proposals that would tap RAMP funds, but talk of monorails and magnetic levitation systems underscore the heavy attention paid to a corridor that CDOT data show as less congested than I-25.
Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach had a conference call Friday morning with Hunt and Gruen. Bach reminded them of four pressing transportation needs in Colorado Springs that could benefit greatly from early availability of funds. He also reminded them that voters here just extended a tax to fund the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, which means we are using local money to pay for a lot of work that might otherwise put strain on state transportation funds. He believes extension of the regional transportation tax should benefit the Pikes Peak region, because transportation officials are placing emphasis on the need for public/private partnerships in regard to distribution of RAMP funds.
Bach urged Gruen and Hunt to make high priority the need for major improvements at I-25 and Cimarron, I-25 and Fillmore, Powers and Old Ranch Road, and Powers and Steward.
“I think I got a very positive response,” Bach told The Gazette. “I wanted to confirm that these are urgent priorities. These locations all pose urgent public safety risks. While I received a positive response in our conversation, I do not have firm commitments yet.”
We thank Hickenlooper and Hunt for improving state government’s ability to build and maintain Colorado roads and bridges, which are essential to our state’s ability to grow and prosper. We thank Mayor Bach for never ceasing to defend the needs of this city and the surrounding region.
Bach and Gruen cannot get the results we need all by themselves. State and local politicians throughout the Pikes Peak region should go out of their way to advocate for our fair share of transportation funds, especially given Friday’s announcement of RAMP.