Breaking Down What the State Transport Bill Does for Walking, Biking, and Transit

Motorists have carte blanche at the Capitol, inside and out. Photo: David Sachs
Motorists have carte blanche at the Capitol, inside and out. Photo: David Sachs

Colorado lawmakers took a step closer to finalizing a transportation funding measure that would go before voters in November. The bipartisan bill consists of a small sales tax hike — .62 cents on the dollar — and a $3.5 billion bond package. Combined revenue would come to an estimated $627 million a year over the next 20 years.

Advocates have called on the state to drastically increase investment in transit, biking, and walking, so to get a better understanding of whether this bill delivers, Streetsblog spoke to Will Toor of the Southwestern Energy Efficiency Project and Danny Katz of the Colorado Public Interest Research Group, two organizations that have followed the process closely.

“It’s a good step,” Katz said. “We have huge multimodal needs in our state. This bill will not meet all those huge transit, walking, and biking needs, but it’s definitely a good step forward.”

Here’s how the funding measure breaks down.

About half of the money is reserved for Colorado DOT

The bill sets aside $300 million for Colorado DOT each year. CDOT would finalize a project list after the bill is passed, but before voters go to the polls, meaning legislators would pass the bill without knowing exactly what CDOT would use it for. This being CDOT, widening I-25 is probably in line for the funding, but the agency is free to spend the money on bus lanes or street safety projects if it chooses.

The other half will go to cities and counties

Of the remaining money, which will fluctuate each year according to sales tax receipts, 70 percent will be distributed among cities and counties. Municipalities have complete control of those dollars. Denver could spend its money on sidewalks and bike lanes if it wanted, or put it toward building a bus rapid transit corridor, or widening a road — it will be up to City Hall. The money could be used for capital projects, like street redesigns, or operations, like bus service.

Transit, walking, and biking get dedicated funding

The other 30 percent of non-CDOT revenue gets funneled into a statewide “multimodal transportation options” fund for transit, biking, and walking projects. A committee of people from local governments, transit agencies, regional planning organizations, and an “advocate for affordable transportation” will decide where the money goes.

An interesting wrinkle is that municipalities would have to match the grants from this fund, stretching how far the funding will go. (As the bill is written, the match only applies to transit projects, but Katz believes that’s a drafting error. The offices of Senate President Kevin Grantham and House Speaker Crisanta Duran, two of the bill’s sponsors, have not returned queries.)

Where do we go from here?

Lawmakers will review the bill in a committee session, likely within the next couple of weeks. There could be amendments, like eliminating the matching requirement for smaller towns, Toor said. Then it has to clear the Democrat-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate.

Some Republicans hate the compromise but GOP senators Grantham and Randy Baumgardner, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, are co-sponsors with Duran and Representative Diane Mitsch Bush, both Democrats.

  • TakeFive

    Props (especially) to House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver. This is an exceptionally well crafted bill. I’m not sure I’d call a .62 percent sales tax increase “small” but if that’s intended to balance out the Right’s description as “burdensome tax hike” or a “21% increase” then OK.

    Correction: CDOT’s priority list is not a secret to legislators or those who venture to their website. The bonded priorities (I assume) are set in stone; they would be one-third of the $9 billion backlog considered the most critical. Beyond that the existing priority list could be discussed and refined by the legislature. Since CO has an open legislative process you can determine that by following along.

    • David Sachs

      There is no correction. The priority list you speak of is not a secret but the final project list of what the bond and tax hike will pay for will not be solidified until after the bill is passed, and then it will be written into the blue book that voters get.

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  • Chris

    I’m a bit fearful to vote yes on this so far. I think if they want a true transportation bill it must include high speed rail in the mix. If there is no dedicated funding to implement this I will be voting no.

  • Matthew Kessler

    According to Erica Meltzer’s Deverite article (https://www.denverite.com/jon-caldera-just-filed-different-roads-funding-compete-legislatures-tax-increase-31441/), the expected revenue generated by the tax would be 677MUSD. If the first 300M goes to CDOT and 30% of the remaining 677M goes to multimodal, that’s 113M. If that’s matched 1:1 as detailed in this article, we’re looking at ~226M for multimodal transportation options. Initially I was hesitant about this bill (as is) because the allocation is a 17%, but a lot of good could be done with 226M.

    Anyone see any issues with my math…?

    MK

    • Chris

      I think one thing I would differ on is that we should have a strong coordinated approach as well. Not all the funding going locally unless they can work together to solve regional issues. The Front Range could really do that with high-speed rail. But letting locals do what they want locally with the dollars might create fragmented systems. I would really like to see an interconnected region with transpiration that truly connects people.

  • Walter Crunch

    Cdot blows half their funds on the ditch to nowhere…And now we are handing them a whole lot more.

  • ddv4171

    I’m tending to agree with Walter Crunch here on the funding being handed to CDOT – it would appear the I-25 expansion south would be a top priority for them, for reasons I could never fathom given how well (ha ha) the first phase of that worked out with their assinine ramp layouts, and the fact that traffic essentially clears south of Hampden, even during rush hour.

    Also, I’m wondering why CDOT would go with the revenue anticipation bonds route instead of using the additional $1.5B of would be interest to tackle more projects – not a road builder, so maybe there is a threat they can actually spend $300m more a year consistently – unless they plan to make that money back by sweeping the balance or something.

    I like the structure of the money going to municipalities and the transit options fund (as long is it doesn’t go to bailing out RTD on the NW line) to move forward some key transit initiatives in Denver and surrounding communities, so long as there can be some coordinated efforts to prevent disjointed systems to Chris’s point, although don’t think high speed rail is in our future given the current lack of even sidewalks as a simple amenity…

  • Walter Crunch

    Republicans are all “no freeloaders” until automobiles are involved.

  • Walter Crunch

    Here is what isn’t in the bill. Anywhere new track or new road/highway is put down….A MUP shall be put down. Imagine if there were an MUP from Pueblo to Cheyenne? Just imagine if there were a MUP from Kansas to Utah.

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