Colorado DOT Director Shailen Bhatt Calls for Raising State Gas Tax

Colorado DOT Executive Director Shailen Bhatt wants drivers to pay their fair share for the roads they use, he said at the Colorado Bicycle Summit on Tuesday. To do that, he’d like to see a higher gas tax on the state and federal level.

Bhatt (1)
Colorado DOT Executive Director Shailen Bhatt

“Raising the gas tax is absolutely the right thing to do,” Bhatt said. “We should’ve done it 20 years ago.”

Colorado DOT’s funding hasn’t significantly increased since 1993, said Bhatt, because that’s the last time the feds raised the 18.4 cent-per-gallon gas tax. Inflation has eroded the value of the gas tax a lot since then. Coloradans also pay about 22 cents per gallon to the state.

Rumblings at the Capitol indicate that transportation funding will be on the agenda this session. Revenue could be raised with a ballot measure to increase the gas tax or sales tax this November.

Bhatt called for a state gas tax hike after someone asked him why the agency favors infrastructure for cars at the expense of people on bikes. Funding is a constant problem, Bhatt said.

But with the billions of dollars CDOT spends on widening roads and highways, it’s hard to believe that funding is a serious obstacle to bike infrastructure, which is incredibly cost-effective. Portland famously built out a citywide bike network for about the same amount it would cost to build a single mile of urban freeway.

So is more funding for CDOT a good idea right now? It depends on how CDOT will spend the money. Denver is still waiting for CDOT to deliver the complete streets that Bhatt says are a priority.

A gas tax hike may raise the cost of driving, but if CDOT is going to plow the revenue back into highway expansion, that’s not a good deal for Denver’s streets.

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