Polis transportation bill

Joined by state and local officials, Gov. Jared Polis signed Senate Bill 280 at a ceremony overlooking Floyd Hill in Jefferson County on Thursday, June 17, 2021.

It's been an uphill struggle with a lot of twists and turns, but from a perch overlooking Floyd Hill, Colorado's transportation future got a new, better financed outlook Thursday.

Gov. Jared Polis signed Senate Bill 260, a $5.4 billion, 10-year plan to build out Colorado's roads and bridges, create more electric vehicle charging stations, boost mass transit and mitigate air pollution in problem areas.

"We all know — the business community, Republicans, Democrats, people all across our state — we need to fix it, we need a comprehensive solution," Polis said, flanked by transportation funding supporters. "That was never in question. We ask ourselves, 'Why hasn't it been fixed yet?' Because it's difficult, it's challenging, it's hard. It requires compromise. It requires work. 

"I'm proud to say in Colorado elected officials on both sides of the aisle, our business community, local leaders have risen to the occasion and we have passed a bill that I will now sign that will finally fix the damn roads."

A report by Gov. John Hickenlooper's administration found the state needed $9 billion on road and bridge solutions to keep up the state's growth.

The governor was joined at the bill signing by Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, the former Republican attorney general, and state highway director Shoshana Lew.

"We won't stop here," Lew said, nodding to the Floyd Hill bottleneck nearby as she referenced the Polis administration's 10-year plan that she led. "We'll enhance multimodal travel and transit into the high country, which we're really excited about, improve wildlife habitat and improve local access."

Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg of Boulder said the legislation, which he cosponsored, was perhaps the most publicly deliberated piece of legislation in state history.

"We shouldn't just build a transportation system for today, but for 10 years from now," he said Thursday. "And that's what this bill addresses."

Progress comes at a high price, though.

The package takes about $1.5 billion from the state operating budget over the next decade, but it mostly relies on a raft of new charges Coloradans will have to cover:

  • A road usage fee that would ratchet up annually over 10 years to maximum of 8 cents.
  • 3.5 cents per prearranged ride in a zero-emission vehicle and 7.5 cents for every other vehicle.
  • 6.9 cents for retail deliveries
  • 5.3 cents for each delivery to support a fund to transition government fleets to electric vehicles.
  • Raising the $50 registration fee for electric vehicles with an index that makes EVs equitable to what combustion vehicles pay.
  • Indexing the current $2 fee per day on vehicle rentals to inflation, exempting car-sharing programs.
  • Changing the Statewide Bridge Enterprise to the Statewide Bridge and Tunnel Enterprise, and authorizing its board to impose a fee on diesel and retail deliveries.

Inflation would be built into each new fund. That's a critical addition, because roads and bridges currently depend on a 22-cent-per-gallon gas tax that hasn't gone up in almost 30 years. As with the existing vehicle rental fee, most of the new charges are indexed to inflation.

Tony Milo, executive director of the Colorado Contractors Association, said he and his members were thankful to see a winning proposal get across the finish line.

"Hats off to lawmakers for making infrastructure a priority," Milo said in a statement Thursday morning. "I applaud this monumental effort. Is it perfect? No. Is it a big step in the right direction? Absolutely. And, that’s what governing is about. We come from different viewpoints. We fight. We argue. And, we work toward the best deal we can achieve for our state. Today is a celebration of that process.

"For most of my career, I have stood in front of the General Assembly and argued, pleaded and fought for a sustainable funding source for our transportation infrastructure. We’re making progress thanks to this legislation. Today is a day to celebrate. Tomorrow, we get back to the business of building Colorado.”

The bill had the support of a number of major business organizations and coalitions, who were hesitant on the fees but desperate for a solution after years of trying to convince Democrats in the statehouse to invest in roads and bridges.

Milo and the contractors association were part of A Way Forward, a new coalition around transportation that was led by Colorado Concern, a membership organization for executives.

Colorado Concern presented a report in May that indicated the state's deteriorating roads and "out-of-control traffic" costs the Colorado economy more than $8.5 billion annually, which works out to $2,023 per driver.

“We believe that because of this bill all drivers in the state can rightly expect safer roads and less traffic congestion as the projects go into the ground,” Mike Kopp, president and CEO of Colorado Concern, said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

Added Greg Fulton, president of Colorado Motor Carriers Association, the trucking industry trade group: “The increasing traffic congestion has manifested as a hidden tax, increasing each year for both businesses and Coloradans. As Colorado continues to grow – in population, increased business, and expanded travel – our infrastructure system will now be able to support us. This fight has been about more than just roads and bridges, but has addressed the challenges that our crumbling transportation system poses to Colorado’s economic vitality.”

Fix Colorado Roads, a statewide though northern Colorado-based legislative coalition, has worked on the issue for years.

"Our congratulations to the governor, speaker, majority leader, Senator Winter, Representative Gray, Director Lew and proponents of SB260," said Sandra Hagen Solin of Fix Colorado Roads. "Passage to secure new funds for the broad and myriad of transportation sector investments encompassed in the measure is an important next step in our long road to addressing the state’s significant needs. We are eager to see the dollars put to work for Colorado and a realization of the assurances of real capacity improvements and congestion relief.”

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