By Kristin Stephens
We are very mobile in Colorado. Some of us walk, ride bikes and for longer distances, drive to our destinations. Growth on Colorado’s Front Range has changed our travel patterns, increasing both traffic and safety concerns. As originally built, many of our roads were never designed to carry the present volume of traffic. According to WalletHub, our roads are becoming difficult to travel because of poor maintenance, increased congestion, and use.
As an elected official and representative to the North Front Range Metropolitan Planning Organization, I’ve worked on transportation funding for many years to find funding to complete crucial regional projects that properly maintain roads and relieve congestion. Thanks to the foresight and creativity of Northern Colorado cities and counties, a third lane is being built on North I-25 as part of upgrading it to relieve congestion and increase safety on this thoroughfare of commerce that ties our communities together. However, one segment of the road remains unfunded. Also, local and rural roads connecting our communities are often crowded and can’t accommodate both cars and multi-modal transportation, or sustainable transportation options like bus rapid transit.
The good news is that a transportation bill, Senate Bill 260, has passed in the Colorado Senate and is making its way through the Colorado House. If passed, it will provide $5.2 billion to fund our current needs, but also address future demands for transit, multi-modal options, electric vehicle infrastructure, and explore the possibility of Front Range rail. SB260 also makes key investments in rural and disproportionately affected communities, while also addressing declining air quality that adversely affects residents on the Front Range. This forward-looking bill has been embraced by cities and counties across the state and is supported by the Colorado Municipal League, Counties and Commissioners Acting Together, and the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, among others.
SB260 has widespread support among local leaders because they all agree that we need a statewide approach to address transportation funding. In Colorado, our roads and transportation are funded by registration fees and a gas tax, but gas taxes have not increased since 1991 or been adjusted for inflation. We’ve also watched funding initiatives fail at the ballot box while our roads and bridges have continued to deteriorate. SB260 equitably increases fees among those who use our roads. Cars, trucks, electric vehicles, retail delivery services, rideshare companies, and rental cars will all pay a small fee, and the general fund and stimulus dollars will add to the available dollars in this plan.
Former Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx said, “The reality about transportation is that it’s future-oriented. If we’re planning for what we have, we’re behind the curve.” We have a real opportunity to fund and modernize our transportation system and stay ahead of the curve. We need to invest in sustainable infrastructure that will help us build equity in our communities, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve our air quality, and achieve our climate action goals. I believe this approach is ambitious but eminently possible. Transportation is more than a way to get from point A to point B. Transportation fuels our economy, it helps us get to our beautiful open spaces and recreation areas and connects our communities. It is time for us to invest in our shared future.
Kristin Stephens is a Larimer County commissioner representing all of Larimer County.