Colorado Legislators square off over transportation plan

| 3/6/2002

On Monday, Senate Democrats presented details of an $18.8 billion, 20-year transportation plan they say is a tax-free answer to Colorado's transportation problems. Voters will be asked to approve or vote down a tax increase for mass transit this year.

Tolling is a key part of the Democrats' plan. SB179, sponsored by Senate President Stan Matsunaka (D-Loveland), is described as a way to raise needed dollars for roads without raising taxes. Funding also is slated to come from sources such as $1.2 billion in federal transportation dollars and $885 million they say is due to Colorado because of the federal government underestimating state population growth over past decade.

Other details in the plan include:
Carving out $10 million in federal funds annually over the next six years for transportation projects in rural areas and allowing the Regional Transportation District to bypass the legislature and go directly to metro Denver voters in 2002 for a sales tax increase. Under the plan, tolls will be lifted as soon as the road construction is paid off.

The measure would allow a tolling authority to collect money from motorists to pay for new highways -- taxpayers would eventually pick up the tab to maintain the new roads after they are paid off.

Gov. Bill Owens previously had asked for a statewide tolling authority, but last week members of the House removed it and passed the rest of Owens' package onto the Senate. Owens plan, HB1310, has not yet been debated.

Reportedly, Republicans also say they have a major problem with how Democrat lawmakers are already highlighting specific projects. Democrats say they want to improve roads such as Interstate 25 in northern Colorado, U.S. 50 between Pueblo and Kansas, I-70 to the Kansas border, and projects in southwestern Colorado including improvements to U.S. 160 at Wolf Creek Pass, and U.S. 550 between Durango and New Mexico.

As of Mar. 4, both bills have been assigned to the Government, Veterans and Military Relations, and Transportation Committee.