Colorado Senate advances road funding bill; includes tolls, truck fee increases

| 2/6/2009

A bill that is likely to rub truckers the wrong way is halfway through the Colorado statehouse.

Senate lawmakers voted 19-16 Thursday, Feb. 5, mostly along party lines to send a bill to the House that includes increasing some truck fees and tolling existing roads. Two of the chamber’s 21 Democrats sided with Republicans in opposition to the bill.

Trying to address transportation needs this year and in future years, the plan brought forward by Gov. Bill Ritter is intended to boost revenues to fix the state’s crumbling roadways.

The plan includes raising transportation funds through an increase in vehicle registration fees. It also would authorize issuing bonds to pay for critical safety projects, as well as create a new government agency that could turn some freeways into toll roads.

Surrounding communities would have to support the toll deal (not to mention the federal government).

Sponsored by Sen. Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, the governor’s initiative is expected to generate $250 million annually over four years to upgrade the 125 most structurally deficient bridges in the state. The money would come via an increase in vehicle registration fees. The cost of permits for oversize and overweight vehicles also would rise.

Also in the works is the creation of a “high performance transportation enterprise” that would pursue opportunities to charge tolls, issue revenue bonds and enter into agreements with private groups.

Gibbs wrote in the bill that “increasing funding for designated bridge projects and road safety projects ... through the imposition of bridge and road safety surcharges and other new fees will not only provide funding to complete the projects but will also accelerate the state’s economic recovery.”

Ritter applauded the work of the Senate in passage of the bill. “It will let us fix and maintain structurally deficient bridges and unsafe roadways, and it will put us on a long-term path toward a modern, 21st-century transportation system that is supported by a sustainable funding stream,” The Democratic governor said in a written statement.

Officials with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association were less enthusiastic about the Senate vote. They point out that truckers and others already pay federal taxes and user fees that contribute to the upkeep of interstate highways. The Association, therefore, opposes the tolling of roadways because it amounts to double taxation for truckers.

OOIDA also opposes the long-term leasing of existing roadways to private business. Association officials oppose the idea of these private companies being guaranteed profitable toll increases on the backs of highway users.

Senate lawmakers removed one provision from the bill that sought to eliminate the fuel tax and, in its place, implement a vehicle-miles-traveled fee for those who are interested in participating.

The bill – SB108 – now moves to the House for further consideration.

To view other legislative activities of interest in Colorado in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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