Lower gas tax revenues further limit CDOT spending
A switch by motorists to more fuel-efficient vehicles has been good for the environment but bad for highway funding, a state official told local government representatives Thursday.The shift in vehicle choices in response to high gasoline prices has resulted in a drop in gas sales. As a result, state gas tax revenues have been declining, said Ed Fink, transportation director for the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Region 3, which covers the northwest part of the state.”It’s great for energy conservation, but it’s terrible for CDOT’s cash flow,” Fink said during a meeting Thursday of the Intermountain Transportation Planning Region in Glenwood Springs.Fink said CDOT has seen a $55 million revenue loss from lower gas sales that the state was able to make up elsewhere. However, he expects funding for transportation improvements to be cut in half due to the tax revenue drop in 2008-09, and to disappear altogether in the following years. That would mean highway projects would be limited to taking care of existing roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure.The hit from falling gas tax revenues is only adding to what already is a gaping gulf between the region’s highway needs and the financial ability to meet them.The statewide transportation plan through the year 2030 has $123 billion in total needs, $48 billion of which it can’t meet. As a result, bridge projects are being put off, 25 percent of highways are congested, and many of the roads are deteriorating.Locally, the Intermountain region, which includes Garfield, Pitkin, Eagle, Lake and Summit counties, has $21 billion in needs and just $600 million available to meet them. Forty-one percent of state highways in the region are in poor condition and 27 bridges need replacing.However, “some things have been happening” in the region, said A.T. Stoddard, a consultant working with CDOT on regional transportation planning. Some $61 million in transportation projects have been completed or will be between 2005-09 in the region. Not all of that money comes through CDOT, and a significant part of it is for work at the Eagle County Airport.What projects CDOT is able to undertake locally are costing more because of competition for materials and workers from the natural gas industry, Fink said. He said it’s hard for contractors to bid on a future project when they’re worried about what it will cost them by the time the work begins and whether they’ll have the workers then to do it.”If we have two bidders (for a project) that’s a luxury,” he said.Fink pointed to the impact higher costs have had on the ability of CDOT to do bridge projects in Region 3, where it has a bridge replacement budget of about $3 million a year.”We headed into this year and were going to do four bridges. We only did three. Next year it only looks like we’re going to get two done,” he said.Thursday’s meeting was held as part of CDOT’s work on forming a transportation plan extending through 2035. By that time, the population in the Intermountain region is expected to increase to almost 340,000, compared to about 132,000 in 2000.Informal polling of government officials Thursday found that the vast majority supported a fixed-guideway transportation system between Denver and Avon as the best solution to improving transportation along the Interstate 70 corridor. More than half favored extending the system to Glenwood, while more than a quarter would rather see bus service along that stretch.Many called for more affordable housing closer to jobs as a primary means of solving the region’s transportation needs.Mick Ireland, a Pitkin County commissioner and the Intermountain region’s chairman, said Colorado also should tax the oil and gas industry at a higher level, as other states do, in order to boost highway funding.”We undertax them and then we wonder why we don’t have the money to do anything,” he said.
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