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CDOT director: Colorado living on 1991 dollars, which are worth 40 cents

February 27, 2017 Updated: February 27, 2017 at 1:00 pm
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FILE - In this June 30, 2016 file photo, nozzles pump gas into vehicles at a BP gas station in Hoboken, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Colorado hasn't raised its gas tax since the last time the Minnesota Twins won a World Series, since you knew everybody's name on "Cheers" and since KFC was called Kentucky Fried Chicken.

And that matters - a lot, state highway director Shailen Bhatt told business leaders last week at a forum organized by the Fix Colorado Roads coalition and the Colorado Business Roundtable.

"I'm taking in 1991 dollars that are worth about 40 cents today," Bhatt said. "I'm not paying contractors in 1991 dollars."

In 1991, the chrome-domed Bhatt had a luxurious head of hair, and he drove a used Jeep Wrangler that got about 9 miles to the gallon. Today his ride gets 40 miles to get the gallon, and his hair disappeared like Billy Cyrus' music career.

"The way we fund transportation is a challenge, Bhatt told the business leaders.

Voters in November are likely to be asked to increase either the state's gas tax, sales tax or some fees to raise about $250 million in new taxes to pay for about $3 billion in transportation projects. Topping the priorities are Interstate 25 north of Monument and south of Fort Collins, as well as the I-70 mountain corridor

Colorado is one of the few states that depend on federal money for the bulk of its transportation needs. Colorado gets 72 percent of its transportation money from the feds.

"You might be a Republican, you might be a Democrat, you might be an independent, but I think we can all agree that the less you have to depend on Washington, D.C., for your funding, it's better," Bhatt said.

Utah gets 40 percent of its funding from the federal government. In the last 10 years Colorado's neighbor to the West has raised sales and gas taxes specifically for transportation.

"Why can't we have nice things like Utah?" Bhatt asked the business leaders.

What does not having nice things mean to the state's economy? Bhatt hit a pothole on Christmas eve that took out two of his tires, but he wound up having to buy four, which unexpectedly tapped his wallet for $700 that wasn't in his budget. He also told of a friend who was visiting on a ski trip recently.

The friend told Bhatt, "We would have loved to have seen you, but it took us three and half hours to get back. We nearly missed our flight. I don't know that we're coming back to Colorado to ski again."

Colorado's traffic is a gift to Utah's ski resorts.

Utah maintains half the road-and-bridge system Colorado maintains, but invests the same amount of money as Colorado does.

Utah ranks second in the nation in pavement conditions. Colorado ranks 32nd.

Utah is Colorado's 'Marcia, Marcia, Marcia,'" Bhatt said, name-dropping "The Brady Bunch."

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