Highway funding fix still a tea party favorite with no solutions offered

Given the current political environment and ongoing sluggishness of the economy, there’s been virtually no appetite on either side of the aisle to talk about finding a permanent funding source for badly needed road and bridge upgrades and maintenance.

State Republicans gleefully go after Democrats for passing the FASTER bill last year that upped vehicle registration fees to pay for repairs to more than 100 structurally deficient bridges around the state that have been crumbling for decades. But so far they’ve offered up little in the way of a permanent funding fix

State Sen. Dan Gibbs, D-Breckenridge, a FASTER sponsor who’s leaving the Senate to run unopposed for county commissioner in Summit County, told the Denver Post he was surprised to see more than $31 million late fees as a result of his bill.

Surprised but unrepentant. The bridges are still crumbling, and at a recent fundraiser for Colorado Treasurer Cary Kennedy he said it will take a bipartisan effort to find the ever-elusive permanent funding source. Kennedy, who served on the governor’s blue ribbon panel on transportation, was borderline passionate on the issue.

She said Colorado desperately needs to move past partisan bickering to avoid a tragedy similar to the 2007 Minneapolis bridge collapse that killed 13. Kennedy said Colorado voters will likely ultimately have to vote on some sort of tax increase, although there’s an ongoing debate on whether the state can impose more fees to shore up transportation shortfalls.

Charging by Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) was rejected during the FASTER debate because of privacy concerns about tracking how far and where motorists drove. But that’s seen by some as a better alternative to increasing the gas tax that’s been stuck at the same levels for decades despite skyrocketing infrastructure demands and a growing population.

Besides the fact that it’s been called a “tax” for years, and therefore would likely have to go to the voters under TABOR, such an increase wouldn’t fully fix the problem because cars are getting more and more fuel efficient – and hybrids and electric vehicles are on the rise.

While Republicans ran away from FASTER in droves in 2009, spending a little time on the state transportation committee seems to add a little perspective. Former Republican state Rep. Bill Kaufman told the Denver Post FASTER helps but doesn’t come close to a permanent fix.

“Funding for the Department of Transportation has declined in the last 10 years,” he said. “It’s about $1 billion now and it was about $1 billion a decade ago, so with inflation we’ve taken a big hit. We’re hurting.”

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