Lone Tree mayor leads state transit effort

Group urges sales tax to fill transportation funding gap

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Buffeted by growth and time, Colorado’s highway infrastructure rapidly is wearing down. The estimated cost to fix it is $772 million short of the Colorado Department of Transportation’s annual budget.

That gap means Coloradans may be asked to vote on a sales tax in November 2014. The 0.7 percent tax, which would generate seven cents on each $10 spent, would be designated solely for transportation improvements.

Already chairman of the Metro Mayors Caucus, Lone Tree mayor Jim Gunning has emerged as a key figure in the effort.

The caucus is part of MPACT 64, which Gunning also chairs. The transportation-focused collaboration of four agencies — the Metro Mayors Caucus, Action 22, Club 20 and Progressive 15 — represents all 64 Colorado counties.

That statewide representation is important, Gunning said, because the transportation issues are not limited to a specific region. Likewise, the solution can’t be found or implemented regionally.

“It’s a system,” Gunning said. “We all need the transportation system to work cohesively.”

In 18 months of broad-based conversation, study and polling on potential solutions, Gunning said a sales tax emerged as the funding source most likely to gain voter approval. Another poll planned in December will determine whether the idea makes it to the 2014 ballot.

Polls already conducted on other potential solutions were not promising. While more than 60 percent of those surveyed agreed transit deficits are a serious issue, most rejected the idea of increasing the fuel tax. Not only is the idea unpopular, Gunning said, but increasingly fuel-efficient and electric cars mean it’s a fast-fading source of reliable revenue.

Colorado today relies on fuel taxes and license fees for construction and maintenance of its transportation infrastructure. The fuel tax hasn’t increased since 1991, when it represented about 20 percent of the cost of a gallon of gas. Today, as the cost of gas has increased, the tax represents just 6 percent of the per-gallon cost.

Meanwhile, both the state’s population and the annual amount vehicles travel have jumped more than 50 percent.

The sales tax also is not a long-term solution, and would likely sunset in 15 years.

“This is a bridge to how we fund transportation in the future,” Gunning said.

If the tax passes, the current proposal calls for dedicating two-thirds of the money to road improvements, and the remaining one-third to transit — including light rail.

Locally, it likely would help fund the expansion of C-470 and accelerate construction of the southeast light rail extension from Lincoln Avenue to RidgeGate Parkway.

Gunning said the recent failure of Amendment 66 — a proposed income tax designed to fund education improvements — doesn’t mean voters will also reject a sales tax proposed on the more personal and universal problems tied to transportation.

“I believe they’ll take this as a brand new issue,” he said.

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