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Opinion: 3 Colorado county leaders on how the new legislative plan for transportation could be revved up

The time for investing in our future is right now. Let's not kick the can down the road — again.

House Speaker Alec Garnett, D-Denver, speaks at the Colorado Capitol on May 4, 2021, about Senate Bill 260 to raise and spend millions on transportation. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

As county commissioners representing three very different parts of Colorado, we face a wide range of transportation challenges. 

Rural La Plata County sits on the New Mexico border and is home to 56,000 residents, many of whom must commute daily from remote areas. Eagle County, best known for its skiing and other recreation, hosts an estimated 5 million-plus visitors a year, and the state’s most important east-west corridor, Interstate 70, runs through it. And Adams County in metro Denver has half a million people, more than 10,000 businesses, and a very different but also key portion of I-70.

County Commissioners Emma Pinter, Marsha Porter-Norton and Matt Scherr

Yet despite our very different circumstances, we share the view that a comprehensive and forward-leaning transportation funding package is critical for each of our communities and the state. 

We were thrilled to see the legislative package just introduced by a bipartisan group of legislators and Gov. Jared Polis, and we offer a few thoughts on the urgency and elements of this proposal.

First, while the newly-introduced package is sizable enough to make a real difference in the lives of Coloradans around the state, we encourage the legislature to find ways to better equip these funding mechanisms for the magnitude of the challenge. 

Our state highway system alone has a $9 billion transportation maintenance backlog that grows larger every year, yet this package would only generate about $5 billion total over a decade. And we need to invest statewide in transit, electric vehicle charging stations, and “safer streets” infrastructure such as sidewalks and bike lanes. 

Coloradans need and deserve a reliable source of funding that is large enough to tackle these challenges. The proposal should be larger if possible, and certainly should not be smaller.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

Second, multimodal transportation funding, including for transit, are part of the package and we encourage the governor and the legislature to further emphasize it. 

Smart transit provides a critical link between employees and jobs and tourists and their destinations, and is vital for people with limited transportation options for accessing grocery stores, doctors, child care, and family. And investments in programs like the Safer Main Streets Initiative mean that more people have more options for safely getting around within communities.

Vehicle electrification, which is also a key part of the proposal, will also be fundamental to a 21st century transportation system. The more fully we build out charging infrastructure, the more fully all of Colorado will benefit from extremely low fuel costs and dramatically reduced air pollution. 

Building out the electric infrastructure will also enable electric vehicle fleets with predictable use schedules, like school buses, to do double duty as battery storage for the grid. This can be a source of cost savings or even revenue generation for underfunded school districts, added reliability for the electric grid, and no longer exposing our kids to harmful diesel fumes on a daily basis.

Finally, while we appreciate that the proposed transportation funding package includes significant investments in climate-friendly strategies, we encourage the sponsors to further prioritize solutions and investments that reduce – not increase – greenhouse gas emissions. 

As local elected officials, we are seeing first-hand just how expensive and harmful climate change already is across the state. It is costing our residents money, hurting businesses, destroying our air quality, and undermining our quality of life. Climate change doesn’t care what part of the state you live in.

In Colorado and in the U.S., we have underfunded transportation for a very long time. The gas tax we pay at the pump hasn’t changed or been adjusted for inflation since 1991, federal funding has been inconsistent and inadequate, and Colorado’s state budget limitations have consistently made it impossible to catch up. 

We are long past due to overhaul our transportation funding system. A modern system would generate sufficient funding, steer dollars toward smart investments, rely on a range of sources to provide more stability over time, ensure that dollars are distributed fairly and equitably, and make sure our transportation system reduces carbon and toxic air pollution. 

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

We can’t simply keep doing the same thing we’ve been doing and expect different results.

We congratulate the bipartisan group of legislators and Gov. Polis for introducing a comprehensive transportation funding bill, and we call on them to improve and pass it this session. 

The time for investing in our future is right now. Let’s not kick the can down the road — again. This is the time to pass what Coloradans need. The future of our own communities and the state depends on it.


Emma Pinter is an Adams County commissioner. Marsha Porter-Norton is a La Plata County commissioner. Matt Scherr is an Eagle County commissioner.


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