DENVER — Colorado lawmakers have passed a bill that offers the biggest boost to transportation funding the state has seen in decades.
Senate Bill 260 is projected to bring in an estimated $5.4 billion in funding over the next decade. Roughly $3.8 billion would come from raising fees on gasoline, delivery, electric vehicle registrations, ride-share services and more. The other $1.5 billion would come from the state’s general fund.
The bill passed a final House vote on Wednesday, which was split along party lines, with Republicans voting against it and Democrats voting in favor of it. It is now awaiting the governor’s signature.
“Yesterday was the proudest day I’ve had in the legislature because we did pass Senate Bill 260. It creates sustainable transportation funding for the state, ongoing both for the short term, medium-term and long-term,” said Rep. Matt Gray, D-Broomfield, one of the bill’s co-sponsors.
The first round of funding the Colorado Department of Transportation will see will come from the state stimulus funding. Some of it has already started to be used for a grant program to help cities revitalize their main streets and make them more pedestrian friendly.
“This has been a project that really was born out of the necessity of the COVID pandemic,” said Matt Inzeo, the communications director for the Colorado Department of Transportation. “Some of this was just re-claiming a little extra space for outdoor dining and people just want to keep that going.”
CDOT has already offered out around 100 grant awards to communities across the state as part of this revitalization effort and plans to offer even more as the funding becomes available. The state also offers technical help to the communities to help them figure out how to get the paperwork squared away, among other things.
Another short-term goal with the funding is to continue CDOT’s work on rural roads. Inzeo says the department was able to fix or improve 580 miles of rural roads in 2020 and wants to either meet that or exceed that over the next two years as well.
Another $170 million will head to what Gray describes as shovel-ready projects.
“It isn’t just shovel ready, but it’s also a fix it first approach that we are trying to take a look at the condition of our current infrastructure and make sure that it stays up to standards,” Inzeo said.
In the longer term, the Johnson/Eisenhower Memorial tunnels, I-260 and Floyd Hill are all in need of major upgrades. On the tunnels alone, CDOT engineers have identified $150 million worth of major repairs that will need to happen in phases.
“Given that they are at 11,000 feet, that can be a really hard job, and there’s some really strange challenges there, but it’s also an example of why we need to continue to dedicate our time and our resources to these crown jewel assets that we built just a few decades ago,” Inzeo said.
All of this is part of CDOT’s 10-year plan to modernize the state’s transportation system; the department had previously identified funding for the first four years of that plan. HB 260 helps cover an additional three years.
Some of the money will also go to helping the department pay down its bond debt for projects that have already been started. Local governments will also see some help funding their transportation priorities.
In order to pay for this, a series of fees will begin to kick in starting July 2022:
- 2 cents per gallon of gas gradually increasing to 8 cents by 2028
- 27 cents on retail delivery fees
- 15-30 cents on ride shares, like Uber and Lyft
- $2 per day on car rentals
- $3 on hybrid car registration gradually increasing to $27
- $4 on fully electric cars gradually increasing to $96
“All of the fees involved are gradually put in over time and then eventually indexed to inflation,” Gray said. “What we’re trying to do is future proof the system, so we don’t run into that problem again.”
On the other hand, FASTER fees on vehicle registrations will be decreased over the next two years to help people recover from the pandemic. The fees will drop by $11.10 next year and $5.50 in 2023 before returning to their current rate in January 2024.
“The bottom line is we’ve been underinvesting for a long time, and there’s no free lunch in transportation. Traffic is only going to get worse if we don’t invest, and we need to invest in all the ways people get around,” Gray said.
The governor is expected to sign the bill as early as next week.