Truckers and others are leery about a transportation omnibus bill signed into law in Colorado, which includes the option of charging tolls to access existing free routes.
Trying to raise at least $250 million a year to fix the state’s crumbling roads and bridges, Gov. Bill Ritter on Monday, March 2, put his signature on a bill he advocated for passage, which includes raising transportation funds through an increase in vehicle registration fees. Previously SB108, the new law creates a new government agency that could turn some freeways into toll roads and also authorizes issuing bonds to pay for critical safety projects. Surrounding communities would have to support the toll deal.
Critics of the tolling options at the statehouse 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 adding tolls to existing roads was unsuccessful.
The governor’s initiative is expected to generate $252 million annually over four years to upgrade the 125 most structurally deficient bridges in the state. The money will come via an increase in vehicle registration fees phased in over three years. The fees for commercial trucks will increase to $71 by 2012.
“With this bill, we’ll be able to begin work on the many unsafe bridges and roads all across the state – work that has been neglected for far too long,” Ritter said in a written statement.
Also attached to the bill is the creation of a “high performance transportation enterprise,” which can pursue opportunities to charge tolls, issue revenue bonds and enter into agreements with private groups.
Officials with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association were disappointed with the inclusion of the tolling provision in the transportation bill. 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.
To view other legislative activities of interest in Colorado in 2009, click here.
– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor
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