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 July 1, 1999

Commissioners want taxpayers to help fund fixes to corridors

BOULDER How much are you willing to pay for transportation improvements in Boulder County?

The Boulder County commissioners are gearing up for public feedback sessions in August or September to find the answer. They want to convince residents here to raise taxes to lessen traffic time on county corridors.

Officials say Boulder County residents shouldn’t hold their breaths waiting for federal or state funding. Although Jeff May, highway transit coordinator for the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG), says “a whole series of projects are planned in Boulder County,” he adds that the main focus is on major roadways interconnecting different parts of the state. DRCOG in cooperation with the state decides on projects and funding for Boulder County and seven others.

The Colorado Transportation Commission in mid-June identified the southeast corridor of I-25 as its top priority. Gov. Bill Owens is asking for a $2.3 million statewide transportation bond initiative this November to help pay for projects on I-25 from South Broadway in Denver to C-470, which includes a light-rail extension and widening I-225. If Owens’ bond issue fails, state transportation officials say it could take up to 20 years for projects in the south corridor to be completed.

In 20 years the traffic volume here is expected to increase by about 86 percent, according to an executive summary by the Regional Transportation Task Force, a group of representatives from municipal and county governments, businesses, as well as public interest, transportation and environmental groups.

But now county spokeswoman Jana Petersen says the traffic volume is growing faster than expected, and county officials believe traffic could double in less than 15 years, taking into account for the county’s current growth rate.

County officials already have hired Mary George, former reporter for The Denver Post, to meet with area civics groups and to create a video and newspaper inserts to bring attention to the county’s traffic problems.

“Federal funding is going to fall far short of what would be needed to make improvements to the main corridors in the county,” says county spokeswoman Jana Petersen.

“The question is are Boulder County residents concerned enough about traffic to raise some local tax dollars to try to get these improvements done, or do we just wait for the state and federal dollars to come in and spend more time in traffic?”

That’s why Stan Elmquist, planning coordinator for the northeast region, which includes Boulder County and eight others, is not surprised that county officials are turning to the public for funding.

“It’s happened several times, especially in the Front Range areas,” he says. “The city of Fort Collins has done it. The city of Boulder has done it. The city of Longmont has done it. It tends to be the Front Range counties and cities that are able to get those kinds of things approved by the voters. Those kinds of situations have been beneficial to the state highway system as well as the county road system.”

Over the next 20 years, county officials expect to receive about $60 million in state funding for major highway improvements, far below the amount that the RTTF says is needed in Boulder County. The RTTF estimates road improvements here to cost between $80 million and $250 million.

The RTTF, which was created by the Boulder County Consortium of Cities, started meeting in October 1996 to study six of the most heavily traveled roads in the county. Those were the Diagonal Highway, the Boulder-Denver Turnpike, North Foothills Parkway, Boulder Canyon Highway, Arapahoe Road and U.S. 287.

A finance group of the RTTF proposed five fee structures sales and use tax, use tax alone, property tax, impact fees or lodging tax — as possible ways to raise money. The group decided to focus on revenue sources that would not depend on the state Legislature.

User fees, such as a gas tax, were not options because local governments cannot enact them under current state statutes. Those statutes also prevent funding options such as highway tolls, and mileage or odometer taxes.

They decided to wait until the U.S. 36 Major Investment Study was completed before making recommendations there, but they advocated more bus service for North Foothills Parkway, the Canyon, Arapahoe Road and U.S. 287.

But options are plenty for improving the Diagonal Highway. Flyovers, lanes without stoplights dedicated for carpoolers and buses, along that corridor were “pretty popular” with the group, Petersen says.

“People in the group were concerned about encouraging carpooling and buses and things like that, so the HOV lane was a way of addressing that. The people carpooling and using buses will get there faster,” she says. “If you’re coming during rush hour, the main problem with the Diagonal is the stoplights. During the day, it’s certainly not much of an issue, but stoplights during rush hour are a real issue for drivers.

Another option includes buying up open space to prevent companies from building and bringing more jobs and people. Another is called transportation demand management (TDM), a combination of strategies to reduce the number of cars on the roads, such as improved facilities for cyclists, raising parking fees and encouraging businesses to start and end shifts during off-peak traffic times.

BOULDER How much are you willing to pay for transportation improvements in Boulder County?

The Boulder County commissioners are gearing up for public feedback sessions in August or September to find the answer. They want to convince residents here to raise taxes to lessen traffic time on county corridors.

Officials say Boulder County residents shouldn’t hold their breaths waiting for federal or state funding. Although Jeff May, highway transit coordinator for the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG), says “a whole series of projects are planned in Boulder County,”…

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