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Two ballot questions could generate millions for transportation in Southwest Colorado

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Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018 10:31 PM
Two questions on the November ballot could boost funding for state highway projects in Southwest Colorado. One would create a new revenue stream and the other would reprioritize existing funding.

Voters will consider two ballot questions in November that would boost funding for transportation statewide in vastly different ways and dedicate different amounts to Southwest Colorado projects.

Regional Transportation Director Mike McVaugh said the additional money for the Colorado Department of Transportation is needed, in part because the 22-cent-per-gallon tax on gasoline that funds the department has not gone up since 1991.

“We’re trying to spend our dollars as wisely as possible. But there is not enough money to do the job we are trying to do for you,” he told a small group gathered at the Durango Public Library on Thursday.

CDOT’s annual budget is $1.75 billion. Its funding is generated by federal and state gas taxes, vehicle registration fees, the state’s general fund and a mix of other sources.

As the state’s population has grown from 3.3 million people in 1991 to 5.4 million in 2015, CDOT’s budget per capita has declined from $125.70 per person annually to $68.54 per person annually, McVaugh said.

If nothing is done, scarcity of funds will continue to worsen, he said.

“We’re short of what we really believe needs to be done, to not just maintain what we have but to improve what we have,” said Sidny Zink, a state transportation commissioner.

Proposition 110 asks voters to raise the state sales tax by 0.62 percent (6 cents per $10 purchase) for 20 years.

The measure would allow the state to spend about $7 billion on construction projects over seven to 10 years.

“If I am paying another 6 cents on a $10 purchase, it’s going to add up incredibly fast and make a difference statewide,” Zink said.

The new revenues from Proposition 110 would be divided three ways: 45 percent would go to state projects, 40 percent would fund city and county roads and 15 percent would fund public transit, bicycle and pedestrian projects.

If Proposition 110 passes, nine projects in Southwest Colorado would be funded, including about $55 million to widen U.S. Highway 160 east of Elmore’s Corner to Bayfield and $2 million for safety improvements along Highway 550 in Durango.

Durangoan Wendy Lasher supported Proposition 110 after hearing from CDOT officials because it would help maintain the state’s roads and dedicate money for cities and counties to use.

“It’s a minuscule amount that makes a huge difference,” she said.

Proposition 109, entitled “Fix Our Damn Roads,” would require the state to use its surplus funds and reprioritize spending toward road infrastructure.

The question would allow the state to bond for $3.5 billion to use on projects over three years, McVaugh said. It would not create a new funding stream to pay back the debt.

“Personally, I feel like 109 is all talk and no show,” La Plata County Commissioner Brad Blake said.

If passed, Proposition 109 could fund six projects in Southwest Colorado, including $66 million to widen Highway 160 from Elmore’s Corner to Bayfield. It could also set aside $32 million to widen U.S. Highway 550 south to the New Mexico border. The measure would not generate enough money to fund all the projects it names as priorities, and the state Transportation Commission would have to select projects for funding, Zink said.

If both measures are passed, the court system would have to decide how the measures would be implemented because they conflict with another, McVaugh said. It is possible the courts could choose just to implement the measure with the most votes, he said.

mshinn@durangoherald.com

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