Gov. Jared Polis announces Colorado's new transportation law while standing in the shadow of Interstate 70 on Thursday, June 17. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

FLOYD HILL — Shaded by an Interstate 70 bridge that has fueled steering-wheel-pounding rage for generations, Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday signed a transportation fee and spending bill that seeks to inject more than $5 billion into state road and transit projects over the next 11 years. 

“Everybody knows we need to fix it,” Polis said of Colorado’s road and highway system before signing Senate Bill 260 under the curved I-70 bridge at the bottom of Floyd Hill, a structure over Clear Creek that chokes traffic and ruins the best laid plans of skiers, snowboarders, hikers and bikers every weekend. “If it was easy it would have been done already.”

Colorado lawmakers have been trying to solve the problem of the state’s limited transportation funding for years, proposing tax hikes and bonding and committing more existing money from the state budget to the problem. But efforts to find money in the couch cushions to supplement a 22-cent-per-gallon gas tax that hasn’t increased since 1992 have either not been successful or not been sufficient to tackle the breadth of the issue. 

Senate Bill 260 was Democrats’ solution to the funding gridlock, allowing them to raise money without voter approval. 

Fees under the measure begin next year. They include: 

  • 2 cents per gallon on gasoline and diesel fuel starting in July 2022 that increases 1 cent every year up to 8 cents
  • 27 cents on deliveries, including those from Amazon, FedEx and Grubhub
  • 30 cents on Uber and Lyft rides starting in 2022 that would increase based on the federal Consumer Price Index. The fee would be cut in half for people carpooling in a rideshare, or riding in an electric vehicle.

In addition to the funding mechanisms in the measure, there are also requirements that the Colorado Department of Transportation take greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals into account when planning future projects. State officials also must consider the impact of transportation work on communities where low income people, minorities or housing-cost-burdened families make up 40% of the population under the new law.

Finally, the bill emphasizes — and spends money on — an electric-vehicle future, as well as mass transit, including a potential Front Range passenger rail system.

Conservative critics complained the legislation was an environmental justice bill dressed up as a transportation measure. Some environmentalists voiced concern that the bill was too focused on expanding roads. 

“Is it perfect? No. Is it a big step in the right direction? Absolutely,” Tony Milo, executive director of the Colorado Contractors Association, said in a written statement. “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.

Gov. Jared Polis signs Senate Bill 260 into law while surrounded by supporters of the measure. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Only one Republican state lawmaker, Sen. Kevin Priola of Henderson, supported Senate Bill 260 as it was debated in the legislature. Democrats didn’t need any GOP support because they are in the majority in the House and Senate and the party holds the governor’s office.

House Minority Leader Hugh McKean, a Loveland Republican, said the transportation fees, paired with other fees and tax changes made at the Capitol this year, will hit Coloradans hard. 

MORE: 5 big tax bills Colorado lawmakers passed this year that will affect your wallet

“It actually gets a little overwhelming when we say them all (new fees) out loud, because there (are) a lot,” McKean said. “All of those new charges and fees and taxes end up landing in one place: on families.”

Conservatives argued that Democrats should have asked voters to approve the new charges instead of imposing fees. Americans for Prosperity Colorado and Colorado Rising Action, two conservative tax-policy groups, have vowed to pursue a gas-tax decrease on the November 2022 ballot to counteract the new fees.

Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, said the measure was passed “against all odds.”

“I think many of us wondered at times if this day would come,” he said at the bill signing.

Sen. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, said the story of the bill is one of “preserverance and determination.”

Traffic on Interstate 25, Wednesday, May 19, 2021, in Denver. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

The transportation bill includes a $380 million infusion from the American Rescue Plan, the latest coronavirus aid measure passed by Congress. That’s part of $1.6 billion in funding from existing revenue streams. The rest of the money will come from the new fees.

Among the funding priorities for transportation officials under the measure? A reworking of the I-70 interchange with U.S. 6 at Floyd Hill, where Polis signed Senate Bill 260. 

The price tag for the project is somewhere in the range of $700 million. 

Jesse Paul

The Colorado Sun — Desk: 720-432-2229 Jesse Paul is a political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is...