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Stalled Colorado transportation legislation finds new traction

Concern about rural areas not having an equal voice and losing funds to metro areas addressed
Rural Coloradans’ concerns over allocation of transportation funds has led to changes in proposed legislation. (Adobe Stock)

The transportation funding bill that swerved off the road an exit shy of arriving on Gov. Jared Polis’ desk for approval in March may be on the brink of finding a new route – albeit with some legislative retreads.

A new amendment was added Wednesday to the bill, which is still in committee after legislators hit the brakes because of a last-minute amendment added during its first go-round.

House Bill 1101 had been cruising through the Colorado Legislature until a late amendment sought to redraw transportation boundaries in a way that would redistribute a greater portion of transportation dollars to more populous areas.

“The original greenhouse gas reduction language was fine,” said Mark Garcia, the district 8 commissioner, which is comprised of 13 counties in Southwest Colorado. “It was changes in the TPR (Transportation Planning Regions) boundaries which was very problematic.”

The amendment change was introduced by state Sen. Faith Winter, a Westminster Democrat, who sought to adjust a grant program that would redraw TPR boundaries to favor populated areas with more funding, as opposed to the current boundaries and formula that balances road miles and other factors within the state’s 15 TPR boundaries.

The Colorado Sun reported that the amendment “stoked outrage in rural communities” and cited several Republicans who expressed concern the bill was going into conference committee to be rewritten, and that Democrats were requiring a study on how money is distributed to TPRs.

“Since then, there’s a new amendment in front of a second conference committee that’s taking out a lot of the population-based language and commits to still having 10 rural TPRs,” said Julie Constan, regional transportation director for the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Region 5 – which encompasses Southwest and South Central Colorado.

“There was some concern there would be some heavy weighting on the State Transportation Advisory Committee with more metro voices than rural voices,” Constan added. “But the new amendment that is going to second conference committee is trying to calm that concern down in committing to still having just as much local voice at the table as would be urban voice at the table.”

There was no outcry from rural communities within Region 5’s Southwest TPR 10 comprised of La Plata, Montezuma, Archuleta, Dolores and San Juan counties, Constan added.

“We have a really good relationship with all our local agencies down here, our counties and our municipalities,” she said. “They know we listen to them and they know they’re able to give us feedback on funding and things.”

Durango Transportation Director Sarah Hill, who is a member of the Southwest Transportation Planning Commission and a TPR 10 member, said she was not aware of any outcry, but that she did not want to speak for the group until it had a chance to discuss the bill at its next meeting.

“We receive the least amount of funding in our region just based on the population and vehicle miles traveled formula,” Hills said. “So it’s kind of unlikely that we would be significantly impacted by it.”

Constan put the amount of money dispersed to Region 5 TPRs into perspective. Region 5 is the lowest funded region because it represents just 3.5% of the state’s population, she said, and in general receives 5% to 7% of the overall funding.

“We get about $3.5 million per year that the region will split up among the TPRs,” she said. “The TPRs weigh-in on how we spend that $3.5 million, but it’s not given to the TPRs for them to spend. So if we start amending boundaries, overall funding is still going to come to Region 5 at $3.5 million. It’s just going to be what groups we’re working with if boundaries change with the TPRs, as far as who is giving us input on how we’re spending our money.

“But that $3.5 million number is just our regional priority money,” Constan added. “It doesn’t cover the money that we have for maintenance and money that we have to preserve the highways and our assets and that type of thing.”

The original legislation had language neither the state House nor the Senate was happy with, Constan said by way of explaining where the bill stands now. So it went into conference committee and those legislators came up with some revised language that talked about the study and protecting rural voices.

“But there still wasn’t enough protection for rural Colorado, people felt, so that language was rejected, but some new language came out (Wednesday),” Constan said. “So there’s going to be a second conference committee with new language that’s going to take more the population conversation out of the picture and focus more just on boundaries and the rural communities and counties side of things.”

If the committee agrees on the new amendment language, HB 1101 will go back to the House and Senate for approval. The aforementioned study will be conducted by CDOT and results are expected at the end of the year.

CDOT’s overall budget is $1.9 billion.


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