Guest column: Transportation funding a crucial need
In my 35 years of working with Colorado municipalities, I have never seen anything like it: cities, counties, state and federal governments ignoring jurisdictional boundaries, stuffing the usual red tape in a drawer and working side-by-side to respond quickly and effectively to a terrible disaster, the September 2013 floods. The effort produced dramatic results. Lives were saved, access was restored, shelter was provided.
In 2014, we find ourselves in the middle of a different kind of disaster, one without red lights and sirens, but a disaster that grows a little day by day. While not life threatening like floods, this disaster is slowly choking our economy and eroding our quality of life. I am talking about the aging, failing infrastructure across this nation. It is the kind of disaster that needs to be addressed with the same type of local, state and federal cooperation so effective in dealing with the 2013 floods.
Today, we have reached a key decision point for the federal portion of the transportation partnership. The current federal transportation program, known as MAP 21, expires on Sept. 30. Before that date, the federal Highway Trust Fund, based in large part on the gasoline tax, will run out of money. Congress needs to take two actions. One is to raise the federal gas tax, or find an alternate, reliable, dedicated revenue stream to fund transportation. The second is to pass a multi-year reauthorization, which would allow state and local governments the ability to plan and execute major transportation projects.
Transportation is a partnership among municipal, county, state and federal governments. We must all pull our weight. The challenges at the municipal level are great. Colorado’s cities and towns maintain some 16,000 miles of streets. That is a lot of miles to pave, stripes to paint, potholes to fill.
A recent Colorado Municipal League survey of cities and towns showed that finding the dollars for street maintenance was the number one budgetary concern for more than half of our communities. Only 41 percent reported sufficient dollars available to maintain their city street resurfacing schedule, 24 percent reported unfunded bridge repair or replacement projects. Across the state, there are 236 municipal bridges currently rated as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
Colorado municipalities are taking action to hold up their end of the transportation partnership. The same survey revealed that 79 percent allocate municipal general fund dollars to street maintenance and 27 percent have sales tax or property tax levy dedicated to street maintenance. This is local money beyond the municipal share of the Colorado Highway Users Tax Fund. Municipal general funds also are covering transit operating expenses to keep buses and para-transit vehicles rolling.
Now, it is important for the federal government to hold up its end of the transportation partnership. Inaction will affect municipalities in ways ranging from transit capital projects to the maintenance of state highways that serve as Main Streets in most Colorado towns.
We cannot afford to neglect our transportation infrastructure needs. We can take a significant step to avert further damage by passing a federal transportation reauthorization bill that is backed by Highway Users Tax Fund revenue required to meet the demands placed on our transportation system. Action now can keep this disaster from damaging the economy of five, 10, or 20 years in the future.
Sam Mamet is executive of the Colorado Municipal League.
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