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Howard GellerHoward GellerOctober 5, 20184min379

Coloradans have special reason to celebrate this year’s National Energy Efficiency Day today, a time to recognize all the advantages that increasing energy efficiency offers including lower energy bills, improved comfort at home and work, and reduced air pollution. Energy efficiency also helps our state conserve our precious water and create jobs.


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Will ToorWill ToorSeptember 26, 20184min342

Imagine a big sporting event – say, the Broncos battle for the AFC championship or the USAF Falcons are playing for their conference title. Now imagine a miles-long parade of self-driving cars endlessly circling around the stadium, clogging up roads, and jamming up nearby residential neighborhoods because their human passengers don’t want to pay for parking. So, people program the cars to drive and drive for hours until the humans are ready to leave the game. And if these self-driving vehicles run on gasoline, they could pollute the air more than human-driven cars do now.


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Will ToorWill ToorSeptember 6, 20186min822

This fall, Colorado voters will make important decisions about transportation funding, but they need the facts to reach the right choice. The hard reality is that just building more highway lanes won’t solve either the urban traffic mess or the economic struggles in rural areas. Instead, Colorado needs a healthy mix of ways to get around – some road work, certainly, but also more buses, bike lanes, carpooling, and similar efforts, as well as a combination of state and local projects. Recent research, in fact, underscores why even mountain towns and rural areas need better transit service.


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Joey BunchJoey BunchJanuary 23, 201811min1049

The Colorado Senate Transportation Committee Tuesday afternoon served up the official opening volley of another contentious fight over how to pay for transportation to keep up with Colorado’s growth.

The first bill Senate Republicans filed this session would ask voters next November to borrow $3.5 billion and repay it with about $300 million a year from the state budget for the next 20 years. The bonds would jumpstart major projects such as widening Interstate 25 north of Monument and Denver, as well as find solutions to the constant snarls on I-70 through the mountains.

Democrats contend that while Colorado can afford to invest in roads while the economy is booming, when money gets tight obligating that much every year from the budget would mean cuts to schools, social programs and a host of state agencies that also are struggling to keep up with growth.

Senate Bill 1 passed, 3-2, on a party-line vote after a three-hour hearing Tuesday afternoon. The bill goes next to the Senate Finance Committee then, assuming it passes, to the floor, where Republicans have a one-state majority. In the House, Democrats have a nine-seat edge.

Sen. Randy Baumgardner, chairman of  Transportation Committee and a sponsor of the bill, said he wasn’t offering the perfect solution, but the it’s better than the state has done in the past.

“You all know we’ve been down here the past four year and we’ve done nothing — nothing,” he told the committee. “And we fall farther behind all the time.”

Conservation Colorado is one of the groups who want to see more emphasis on getting vehicles off the roads via mass transit.

Baumgardner pointed out that 10 percent of the money in his bill is for transit.

Sen. Nancy Todd voted against the bill and she’s holding out for a bipartisan “Colorado solution.”

She said bonding is being inaccurately being pitched as a cost-free solution, when it’s really debt that strikes a barely one-third of the needs. She characterized Senate Bill 1 as a patchwork solution and thought legislators should find a permanent new funding source to allow the state to plan for its growth.

“I’m tired of Band-Aids,” said the Democrat from Aurora. “I’m ready for full surgery.”

Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said he would like a Colorado solution, too. And he pointed to $1.7 billion in bonds in 1999 for 25 T-REX projects, mostly in the Denver area.

“If it’s good enough for Denver, why isn’t it good enough for the rest of the state,” he said.

The bill refers a measure to the November ballot to ask voters to borrow $3.5 billion to be paid back — up to $5 billion — over 20 years. The repayment would come from 10 percent of the state sales tax revenue.

State agencies are fretting they’ll face cuts down the road, if a tight budget first has to cover bond payments. The departments of education, human services and higher education all spoke against the bill.

Christina Rosendahl, the chief lobbyist for the Department of Corrections, said the agency is opposed to the bill because it’s worried about future budget cuts.

“We appreciate the discussion and truly believe funding transportation is both needed and laudable, and is something that’s important to all of us in Colorado,” she said. “That being said, this bill does take significant dollars out of the budget and really puts pressure on other agencies that rely on General Fund dollars.”

Business interests told the committee that traffic woes are choking the economic lifeblood from the state. At the same time, tax increases and partisan solutions that aren’t politically

“Overreach on these solutions don’t really help us,” said David May, president and CEO of the Fort Collins Chamber of Commerce and a leader of the Fix North I-25 Business Alliance.

Mizraim Cordero, vice president of government affairs for the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber supports Senate Bill 1 as a starting point to a bipartisan solution for transportation that could get to the governor’s desk.

He said Coloradans are “fed up with the increasing congestion and deteriorating condition of their roads.”

Rachel Beck, vice president of government affairs of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and EDC told the committee the legislation needs four components:

  • A significant and ongoing contribution from the budget
  • New revenue tied to transportation services (meaning not a sales tax).
  • A focus on statewide corridors of regional significance.
  • It has to politically viable, “because we might get only one shot at this.”

“This is a good start, but there are still a number of components that need to come together to get to a solution that really does address these needs on a long-term basis,” Beck said.

Sandra Hagen Solin spoke for business interests along the state’s major corridors when she testified on behalf of Fix Colorado Roads, the Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance, the Northern Colorado Economic Alliance and the Vail Valley Partnership.

“She said that after a prior Senate Bill 1 passed in 1997, it put $2.2 billion from the budget until it was repealed 12 years later, In the ensuing decade the General Fund budget has provided only $357 million.

“The restoration of General Fund dollars that’s afforded in Senate Bill 1 is an incredibly important step to addressing our challenges,” she said. “We can certainly have a host of competing conversations around who’s hurting worse in this state with respect to our budgets. The reality is there’s growth in this budget to allow us to address many of the concerns that are facing us.

“Transportation has been waiting for a long time.”

May said the state can’t continue to wait on a political solution to funding. Every year the costs rise with the population, and every year the traffic gets worse.

“Every year we don’t out a solution on the table we are hurting the citizens of the this state,” he said.

Tony Milo, the executive director of the Colorado Contractors Association, whose members work on most of the public works infrastructure projects in the state, said money from the state budget, alone, won’t solve the problem long-term, and when times get tough there’s no assurances transportation would face indirect cuts. The state has to find a sustainable source of funding for transportation, not the boom and bust of borrowing and spending.

“CDOT has documented a need of $1 billion a year,” he told the committee. “Our cities and counties across the state also have shortfalls of hundreds of millions of dollars to relieve gridlock on city streets, improve safety on our rural roads and provide mobility on a local and regional basis.

“SB 1 as written is a good start to helping CDOT address a limited number of high-priority projects, but does not address continuing maintenance of the existing system nor does it provide any additional funding to our cities and counties who collectively are in just as much of a funding crisis as CDOT.”

Diane Schwenke, president and CEO of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, shared that concern that the deal only helped state projects, not local ones, as well. Last year’s failed House Bill 1242 would have steered some of the $3.5 billion to local governments.

Cooke pointed out that local governments already get transportation money from the state, which won’t change if Senate Bill 1 passes and voters approve the bonds.

She said the chamber is in a “monitoring” position on the bill.

“But make no mistake we do consider transportation our highest priority as an organization this year,” she told the committee. “We applaud the fact we see a bill early in the session, and we are also very excited about the potential for being able to bond on some existing revenue rather than asking for a tax increase.”

Mike Salisbury, a transportation expert for the Colorado-based Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, agreed local governments should get money and expanding broader forms of transportation is critical.

Local roads, state highways, bike paths and transit services Coloradans are relying on have become increasing inadequate,” he said.

R.J, Hicks, representing the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, spoke of the long struggle to find a transportation fix that lasts.

“This bill is just a continuing saga we’ve been in in the General Assembly for a number of years. stretching well over a decade,” the veteran lobbyist said.

Like others grateful for any major investment in transportation, he said a permanent solution is better than a good-times handout.

“When the economy tanks are we going to see the casualty being the funding of our roads again?” he asked the committee.



Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 29, 20174min534

Environmental groups are cheering on a plan to spend Colorado’s $68 million lawsuit settlement from Volkswagen on green-powered solutions to getting around.

Under the draft, $18 million for transit buses, another $18 million for trucks and buses that run on alternative fuels, $10 million to electric vehicle charging stations plus administration and other clean-air spending.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will hold a public hearing on the prosal oon Sept. 18 and take public comments into October before a final decision that’s expected in November.

The $68 million is the state’s entire share of a mediated $14.7 billion settlement with Volkswagen after  it was discovered the automaker installed computer software to cheat emissions tests in about 550,000 diesel vehicles from 2009 through 2016. About 9,700 of those vehicles were sold in Colorado.

The money from the settlement must go toward reducing vehicle emissions.

“The goal of this settlement is to reduce harmful pollution and positively impact public health as much as possible,”Sophia Guerrero-Murphy, transportation and energy advocate for Conservation Colorado, the state’s largest environmental organization, said in a statement. “To accomplish these goals, the CDPHE needs to electrify our buses and trucks. This is also an opportunity to make sure our whole state benefits from infrastructure that will positively impact our air and quality of life, especially underserved urban and rural communities.”

The $10 million Colorado could put into electric-charging stations is the maximum the settlement allows. That’s enough to put in 60 fast-charging stations. The Southwest Energy Efficiency Project and the Colorado Public Interest Research Group say if those stations are placed 30 miles apart, the stations would offer enough juice to cross interstates 70, 25, and 76, along with most of U.S. 160, U.S. 550, U.S. 50, U.S. 285 and U.S. 40

“Volkswagen’s misleadingly dirty cars emitted pollutants by as much as 40 times over the legal limit,” said Danny Katz, CoPIRG’s director. “Colorado has an opportunity to use this money in a truly transformative way by focusing on electric cars, buses and trucks. Supporting electrification is the best way to put us on track to where we ought to go — a transportation system with zero emissions.”

Will Toor, the transportation program director for SWEEP, said Colorado should “hit the accelerator for electric vehicles” with the windfall.

“Because Colorado’s major utilities have been closing their most polluting older power plants and rapidly adding wind and solar, the state’s electricity mix is getting cleaner and cleaner so moving towards electricity as the fuel for vehicles puts us on a path to a zero emissions transportation system,” he said in the statement.

More electric vehicles on the road has the support of most statehouse Democrats, including Gov. John Hickenlooper. Last December he, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval said they would draw up a plan over the next year to put up stations to give electric vehicles a network of more than 2,000 miles of highway.

“Our residents and the millions of visitors to our states will be able to drive electric vehicles from Denver to Salt Lake City to Las Vegas—from the Rockies to the Pacific,” Hickenlooper said at the time.


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Will ToorWill ToorJuly 18, 20177min465
(Southwest Energy Efficiency Project)
Will Toor
Will Toor

Anyone who travels on highways in the Front Range knows that congestion is a major problem along the front range and that it is getting worse.

The traditional solution, expanding the highway to relieve congestion, is unaffordable and ineffective.  The Colorado Department of Transportation has said it needs an additional $1 billion per year to maintain and expand the existing highway network, but the department’s main source of revenue, motor fuel taxes, actually is losing value because of inflation. The high cost of highway expansion makes it difficult to add lanes in a time of declining funding.

Even if Colorado does find significant new revenue for transportation (which I strongly support), added lanes alone would not untangle Front Range congestion. Multiple studies show that while increasing highway capacity might temporarily reduce congestion, in the long run it only encourages more people to drive until congestion returns to high levels.

One compelling example is the $1.67 billion Transportation Expansion Project, commonly called T-REX, which expanded Interstate 25 and added transit service parallel to the highway through southeast metro Denver.  The project started in 2001, finished in 2006, but just four years later – in 2009 – congestion had returned to the level experienced before construction began.  The accompanying rail line provides a fast, uncongested trip for many travelers, but the highway expansion had no long-term benefit in reduced congestion according to CDOT’s congestion measurements.

What if there was a way to increase mobility on existing roads, and improve transit and other options, without having to expand the highways? This sounds like magic, but it really just requires a smart approach to using market forces to optimize the use of our existing highway lanes.

The idea actually is very simple: Convert existing highway lanes into high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes. This relatively low-cost alternative can increase the number of people using a roadway and ensure a congestion-free travel option. The change takes less time to implement than adding entirely new lanes, and certainly costs far less money. Benefits can be maximized by using the revenue generated by the tolls to invest in improved access to transit, expanding and upgrading biking and walking infrastructure, and additional alternatives such as carpools and vanpools.

Conversion of existing lanes to managed lanes, along with aggressive promotion of alternatives to driving alone, can benefit all types of travelers and give them more choices, without increasing congestion in the remaining general purpose lanes, all at much lower cost than trying to expand the highway.

Ironically, a top candidate for such a lane conversion is I-25 through the T-REX area because of the severe congestion along with no realistic options to further expand the highway. SWEEP recently analyzed this section of I-25 and found that there could be significant benefits from converting one lane in each direction to a HOT lane, then investing the revenue in transit passes and connections to transit particularly for the first and final miles of popular commuter routes.  This win-win approach would give drivers access to HOT lanes where congestion would be greatly reduced. It further would allow more people to use additional, affordable, effective and efficient transit instead of driving. Meanwhile, traffic in the remaining “free” lanes would be no worse than before the changes.

This method optimizes the use of the existing highway, and will give travelers new options that will save them time, whether they choose to pay a toll when they are in a rush, or take the train because there are now better first- and final-mile connections to the transit stations.

This approach should appeal across the political spectrum. For conservatives, the plan minimizes expenditures of tax money and uses market forces to manage congestion. For those on the left, this approach also would increase transit use, avoid environmental impacts and give low-income commuters better access to transit. In a world of extremely limited transportation funds, it should appeal to officials trying to manage limited budgets by make the best use of existing infrastructure.

Maybe it is time to try something new.