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Colorado highway funding pie pits urban against rural interests

April 7, 2014 Updated: April 7, 2014 at 9:04 am

Officials and lobbying groups are concerned that new formulas being considered for transportation funding in Colorado may shortchange rural areas.

Areas that might feel the pinch if the Colorado Department of Transportation starts using population as one of its gauges for doling out funding include the Western Slope, much of Southern Colorado and Eastern Colorado, including the towns of Calhan and Ellicott in Eastern El Paso County, according to the lobbying groups.

"That is a fear," said Cathy Garcia, president and CEO of Action 22, a coalition of 22 southeast Colorado counties. "If you base it on population, by the time 10 years roll around, rural Colorado will have lost a lot."

The state's three big lobbying groups, Action 22, Club 20 and Progressive 15 have joined forces to do a transportation survey in each of the regions.

The idea is to highlight needs in these areas and suggestions about what can be done to help funding transportation projects.

Much of Colorado transportation funding now is based on vehicle miles traveled.

"The new formulas under discussion all include using population as a funding mechanism which could reduce funding in out-state areas," Garcia said.

One of the questions in the survey asks if a sales tax, income tax or gas tax would help fund transportation needs in Colorado, Garcia said.

Those questions come after a poll in the Denver metro area showed that there wasn't any interest in a .7 percent tax increase for transportation in Colorado, Garcia said. Transportation didn't rank highly for respondents, whose priorities leaned toward economic development.

This latest poll, she said "could get the discussion going again."

"We see this as a major need," Garcia said. "Our transportation infrastructure is very important. We need the roads, we need passing lanes, we need safety issues addressed. There should be no separation from urban and rural roads. It should all be linked."

Not everyone is against population as a measurement for funds.

Using population "would benefit our metropolitan area," said Jason Wilkinson, spokesman for the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments.

"Any equation you come up with will favor somebody," he said. "The urban areas realize that they have to subsidize the rural areas to an extent. We all enjoy a drive through the mountains or if you are going point-to-point. We get that."

There's little concern about the potential of unfair funding for Woodland Park, west of Colorado Springs on Highway 24.

"It's always an issue now because of the reduction of transportation funds," said David Turley, Woodland Park mayor. "But I'm pretty comfortable that when we need it, we get the funds."

Turley pointed out that Woodland Park also benefits from major urban area projects such as the widening of Interstate 25 from north Colorado Springs to Monument and improvements to the I-25, Cimarron Avenue interchange.

Still, he said, "It has to be balanced."

The transportation department "has had cutbacks in money and they're trying to figure out how to do as much as they can. I'm not to worried about us holding our own. If we don't feel comfortable with what's going on in smaller towns like Woodland Park, we go to PPACG and weigh in on it. PPACG makes a big difference," Turley said.

Among poll questions:

How would you rate the roads in your county?

How would you rate the roads you travel in other parts of Colorado?

Were you aware that the budget for Colorado Department of Transportation's budget has decreased by $500 million since 2008? Are you willing to pay more money for transportation to improve the state system?



Lobbying groups are seeking input on a transportation survey looking at regioinal and local needs and ideas to fund transportation in this era of dwindling funds. Deadline is April 15. Click here to take the survey.


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