Colorado voters reject both transportation propositions, leaving road funding in limbo

Traffic on westbound of Interstate 70 is backed up as seen on June 18, in Frisco.
Hugh Carey /

Colorado voters had a chance to make some major changes to the state’s transportation issues at the polls on Tuesday, with dueling propositions battling it out on the ballot proposing statewide sales tax increases and billions in bonds to fund road projects.

But as the polls closed and the numbers started rolling in, voters in the state resoundingly chose to reject both propositions 109 and 110, meaning Colorado will have to look elsewhere for the funds to address its transportation woes.

Proposition 109, otherwise known as “Fix Our Damn Roads,” would have authorized $3.5 billion in bonds to fund statewide road projects — primarily construction, maintenance, repairs and bridge expansion — without raising taxes for citizens. The measure, sponsored by Jon Caldara and Mike Krause of The Independence Institute, would have also prohibited state agencies from using the funds for supplementary costs for administration and initiatives like multimodal transportation projects, instead focusing on a set list of 66 CDOT tier-1 road projects. The proposition would have left it up to future legislatures to repay the debt from the state budget.

The proposition was thought by many to be a long shot to pass from the offset, and voters reciprocated that sentiment on Election Day. Proposition 109 was rejected by a margin of well over 400,000 votes — 724,248 in favor and 1,146,717 against — more than 61 percent of the votes.

Despite the failure proponents of 109 are calling the result a victory, largely because they believe it played a role in the defeat of Proposition 110, which they vehemently opposed.

“We’re disappointed that it failed, but the original intent of putting it on the ballot was to kill 110, and to make sure voters knew this tax increase was unnecessary,” said Krause, director of public affairs with The Independence Institute. “Winning would have been icing on the cake. But if 110 wasn’t on the ballot, we wouldn’t have put 109 on the ballot.

“Colorado voters obviously want roads addressed, but they obviously don’t want it done with a tax increase, and obviously they don’t want any new debt. So where that leaves the legislature is they have to address transportation issues without a tax increase or debt, and they’ll have to reprioritize the existing budget.”

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Proposition 110, better known as “Let’s Go Colorado,” would have raised the state sales tax rate by .62 percent from 2.9 to 3.52 percent for 20 years. It also would have authorized $6 billion in up front bonds to fund transportation projects. If passed, the proposition would have allocated the revenue between high priority CDOT projects, local and county governments, and multimodal transportation initiatives.

But Proposition 110 didn’t fair much better than 109, as voters chose to reject 110 by a margin of more than 350,000 — 757,845 in favor and 1,122,590 against — more than 59 percent of the votes.

“It means that we will continue to limp along as we look to maintain and improve our transportation system in Colorado,” said Margaret Bowes, director of the I-70 Coalition and strong proponent for 110. “The need doesn’t go away, and we’ll still have to figure out how we’ll fund transportation in Colorado.”

Bowes also noted that the proposition’s failure to pass could be a major setback for the state, especially in more scarcely populated areas in the eastern plains and western slope.

But western slope voters largely chose to reject both propositions 109 and 110. In Moffat, Eagle, Grand and Routt counties neither measure was able to gain traction or a majority of voters. Summit County chose to support proposition 110 with just over 50 percent of votes in favor of the proposition, but readily rejected 109.

“It has potential to be an extremely large setback,” said Bowes. “The larger municipalities on the Front Range might move ahead with raising taxes locally to support their own transportation needs. That will leave the eastern plains and the western slope to fend for themselves. We can’t generate enough funds to fix our roads without state funding. The fear is the populated Front Range will fend for themselves, making a statewide solution less likely.”

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