Infrastructure Report State of Disrepair
Our state’s transportation infrastructure is crumbling. We’re not maintaining our roads; we’re not expanding our systems to meet the state’s growing population; and we’re not thinking creatively to engineer solutions. If we don’t repair things soon, our highways and bridges will be in jeopardy—along with our treasured Colorado lifestyle.
Colorado’s infrastructure needs politicians—and the public—to buy in.
Infrastructure, one might think, would be a bipartisan issue. But that’s simply not the case. “We’re at a stalemate at a state level and a federal level,” says Colorado Senator Scott Renfroe, a Republican who represents parts of Weld County, Greeley, and Eaton. “Republicans and Democrats have opposite views on how to fund things—including infrastructure.”
A bill brought before the state Legislature in 2009 illustrates Renfroe’s point. Co-sponsored by then-Senator Dan Gibbs and then-Representative Joe Rice, both Democrats, the 2009 FASTER bill proposed raising Colorado’s motor vehicle registration fees by an average of $41 to help fix deficient bridges and make Colorado’s roads safer. The proposed increase would still leave the state with the fourth-cheapest motor vehicle fees in the country. The bill passed — with nearly zero support from Republicans, some of whom argued FASTER was a thinly veiled unconstitutional tax increase—and began infusing about $180 million into CDOT’s coffers each year.
According to many legislators, co-sponsoring the bill cost Joe Rice his seat. “FASTER was certainly the subject of tens of thousands of pieces of mail, and my opponent made it a mainstay of her campaign,” Rice says. “Too few elected officials are able to take on tough problems because the other side will use it against them. Both parties are at fault here.”
The impasse leaves Colorado’s infrastructure in purgatory. Many Democrats, such as state Representative Max Tyler, think complete transportation solutions—light rail, streets with bike lanes, better bus lines, and maintenance—should be better funded, whether that’s through a raise in the gas tax or, perhaps, by alternative options like a vehicle miles traveled tax. Republicans like Senator Renfroe and Representative Glenn Vaad, the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, do not support a hike in the gas tax; they want to “devolve” infrastructure from the federal level back to local levels. They believe if infrastructure is funded locally, through increases in cities’ sales taxes or mill levies, for example, there will be more buy-in from businesses and residents.
But the blame cannot solely be placed on politicians. “The question is, what do the people want,” says Don Hunt, CDOT’s executive director. “Are they willing to drive on bad highways?” If not, Coloradans should vote for a general assembly that’s willing to creatively and boldly address the budget shortfalls that may eventually cripple the way Coloradans live, work, and play. “When we introduced FASTER in 2009,” Gibbs says, “you would have thought the sky was falling on the Capitol the way legislators were reacting. I promise you that there wasn’t one legislator in the building that didn’t know we needed to fix things, yet so many lacked the political will to do it.”
Feel the Chill
As temperatures dip, maintenance costs rise. Colorado’s wintry mix—snow, ice, frigid temps—is a serious money hog. Here, the pounding the state’s coffers take.
- In fiscal year 2010, CDOT used 279,586 tons of solid deicer, which cost $22,296,052.
- In fiscal year 2010, CDOT used 12.7 million gallons of liquid deicer. At $.70 per gallon, that totals $8,890,000.
- In fiscal year 2010, CDOT crews worked on 330,453 feet of snow fence. At $2.20 per foot (which includes installation), that cost the department $726,997.
- As of 2010, it cost $9.75 to plow/deice one mile of one-lane highway. CDOT workers snowplowed, sanded, and deiced 6.8 million miles of highway in 2010, which totaled $66.3 million.
- In 2010, 245 CDOT winter employees in the metro area worked 12-hour shifts to clear snow and ice from 3,850 single-lane miles. The employees used 100 snowplows, three 6,000-gallon tankers to apply liquid deicer, and 18 brooms to sweep up leftover debris.
- There were 838 hours of road closures related to avalanche control during the 2009-2010 season.
- In the 2009-2010 season, CDOT spent 5,788 hours mitigating and cleaning up avalanches.
- The frigid and snowy winter of 2007-2008 upended CDOT’s budget for snow and ice control. That season the department had to spend $25 million more than was budgeted to keep the roads clear.