Colorado House panel OKs road funding bill with tolls, truck fee increases

| 2/18/2009

A bill that continues to advance in the Colorado statehouse will no doubt draw the ire of truckers and others opposed to the notion of charging tolls to access existing free routes.

The House Transportation and Energy Committee voted 6-5 to advance a bill to the House Appropriations Committee, which is intended to boost revenue to fix the state’s crumbling roadways. All Democrats on the committee voted in favor of the bill, while all Republicans were opposed.

Earlier this month, the bill – SB108 – was approved in the Senate on a 19-16 vote, with only two of the chamber’s 21 Democrats siding with Republicans in opposition to the bill, which includes some truck fees.

The Appropriations Committee meets each Friday and could be considering the bill as early as Feb. 20. 

Trying to address transportation needs this year and in future years, the plan brought forward by Gov. Bill Ritter 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 would double.

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.”

Officials with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association 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.

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

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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