New transportation bill passes, despite speed bumps
summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado
Having won major battles over transportation issues in the past two years, Summit County’s Sen. Dan Gibbs has shouldered the signature bill of this legislative session, a $250 million measure promising to rebuild roads and bolster the state’s economy.
Gibbs, a Democrat from Farmer’s Korner, won narrow approval in the Colorado Senate on Thursday for the so-called FASTER bill, which would increase vehicle-registration fees to raise money for road and bridge repairs.
“We have had a lot of talk as to how we are going to deal with our state’s crumbling transportation infrastructure. Now it’s time to do something,” Gibbs said. “This is a great starting point.”
As a freshman state representative two years ago, Gibbs earned his legislative stripes by taking on the trucking industry in passing a contested law that toughened penalties for chain-law violators.
And last year, he led the charge against a measure, ultimately defeated, that would have placed tolls along Interstate 70, in part leading to his appointment as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee this session at the relatively young age of 33.
The FASTER bill, SB 108, is one of the prime measures on the statehouse agenda for Gov. Bill Ritter and the Democratic legislative leadership.
“This is a very high-priority bill this year,” Gibbs acknowledged.
About 40 percent of Colorado’s roads are in poor condition, and, in 2007, Ritter established a blue-ribbon panel to assess Colorado’s transportation crisis.
The panel’s findings revealed that the state must come up with $500 million each year just to maintain existing roads and bridges, and $1.5 billion per year in new money would be required to repair failing roadways.
“This bill takes many of the (panel’s) recommendations and put them into law,” Gibbs said. “I think this will really move our state forward. …We can’t wait a day longer.”
But the measure ” which would generate the money by raising vehicle-registration fees $32 on average next year ” drew fire from Republicans on fiscal grounds.
In addition to raising fees on all motorists ” which critics called a circumvention of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights ” the measure would tack on $2 to car rentals and increase the penalties for late registration and oversized or overweight trucks.
Nonetheless, it was sent to the House on a 19-16 vote after days of intense debate in committee and on the Senate floor.
In addition to maintaining roadways, Gibbs touts the bill as an economic-development measure at a time when 47,000 Coloradans have lost their jobs in the past year and unemployment rates have reached a five-year high.
“I am acutely aware of the need of Colorado,” Gibbs said. “The FASTER plan solves a lot of problems by reinvesting in the state and creating jobs.”
The Colorado Contractors Association estimated than an annual investment of $250 million or more would create 10,000 jobs directly, with a potential for 30,000 additional jobs.
“This is a down payment on a better system of economic development in Colorado,” said Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver. “Yes, it’s tough. No one is excited about paying this modest fee, but we need to re-energize our economy. And there is a lot of common ground left in this bill. At the end of the day, we agreed on more than we disagreed.”
Ashley Dickson can be reached at (970) 668-4629, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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