The Colorado House has narrowly approved a bill that includes the option of charging tolls to access existing free routes.
By a margin of 34-31, House lawmakers voted to advance the bill, which is intended to raise at least $250 million a year to fix the state’s crumbling roads and bridges.
Four Democrats – including the House Majority Leader – joined every Republican in opposition of SB108. Nevertheless, the bill – which includes some truck fees – now moves to the Senate for approval of changes before advancing to Gov. Bill Ritter’s desk for his signature.
Trying to address transportation needs this year and in future years, the plan brought forward by the governor 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.
Some Republicans said the transportation needs could be met instead by setting aside money from the state’s general fund rather than through new fees and tolls. A bipartisan effort to amend the bill to block actions to add tolls to existing roads was unsuccessful.
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 phased in over three years. 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.
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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