I am discouraged by the doubt once again expressed by voters early this month when a fairly painless way to raise money for public infrastructure improvements was defeated. A ballot measure (CC) would have allowed the state to keep “excess” revenues which have to be returned to voters under the complicated requirements of Tabor.
I am the Town of Fraser representative on the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Regional Transportation District (TPR) board – we meet quarterly to discuss how best to improve or at least maintain our state highway system in the face of degradation caused by our harsh climate and rapidly increasing traffic counts. Simply put, we are working to accomplish much with very little. Fatal accidents continue on Red Dirt Hill between Tabernash and Granby, finding funds to install turn lanes will be a very heavy lift.
The northern front range passed ballot measure CC and the highway funding initiative in 2016. Both were defeated by rural voters and voters in the southern front range. The northern cities are expressing their frustration by seriously discussing forming their own transportation district and going to the voters to fund needed urban highway projects. If they accomplish this, realistic levels of funding for rural projects will be even less likely.
Our mountains are Denver’s park. Front rangers depend on decent asphalt to access their back yard. This is the point made by Heather Sloop, our TPR Chairperson and Steamboat Springs City Councilor, as she desperately argues against Denver taking this path when carrying our message to State TPR meetings.
Asking our neighbors to help maintain the mountain garden access path they depend on may become the only approach for funding regional infrastructure. Perhaps we might also request they help ensure this mountain garden is watered.
I have “floated” the concept of a water impact fee in this column. A water impact fee would be levied on any water transferred outside its basin of origin, carrying funds back across the divide to improve water and public infrastructure in basins impacted by the urban front range.
Voters in the population center of the state have continually proven they are willing to fund critical infrastructure investments in the future. Unfortunately, the majority of state voters continue to express distrust of government through the ballot box. For this reason, Colorado is at the bottom, or near the bottom of the heap of state funding of highways and education. It remains uncertain how we will either drive into our future or have future leaders without supporting these two foundational societal building blocks.
It is budget time for local government. I believe Fraser is headed down a path fraught with financial peril as we face ever increasing water supply and treatment challenges – again – largely because of our nearly dry namesake river. It is imperative to continue to seek innovative methods to obtain financial help from the population sucking from an increasingly dry straw.