New law gives communities more leeway with spending Highway User Tax monies on transit projects
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Alternative transit in Colorado could get a funding boost this year, after Gov. John Hickenlooper last week signed Senate Bill 13-048 into law.
The measures gives communities new flexibility to spend their share of the $250 million pot of money collected from gas taxes and license plate fees — known as the Highway Users Tax Fund — on bike and pedestrian paths, transit and other projects. Previously, the money was restricted by law to highway and bridge projects.
“Aurora supported the bill because we wanted the flexibility to address all of our local transportation needs, not just road and street needs,” said Steve Hogan, Aurora Mayor. “Our city wishes to address parking related to Light Rail, bike path and bike lane improvements, and transit needs around the Fitzsimons/Anschutz Campus. These amenities make our city more desirable.”
A 2013 report by the National Association for Realtors found that houses located near public transit were the “equivalent of beachfront property” with an average 42% better value than similar houses without access to public transit. Another report by CEOs for Cities found that homes in walkable neighborhoods are worth thousands of dollars more and helped attract employers.
The bill was supported by the Metro Mayors Caucus, Metro Area Commissioners and the Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce as well as transit agencies and environmental groups. It drew little opposition as it worked its way through the legislature.
“Once signed into law, it becomes important that local governments know what an important tool this is for providing the walkable, bikeable, easy-transit amenities that residents want,” said Will Toor, director of transportation at the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project. SWEEP worked with sponsors Representative Max Tyler and Senators Matt Jones and Nancy Todd to develop the bill.
Transit and other multi-modal projects allowable by SB 13-048 include, but are not limited to: bus purchases, transit and rail station construction, transfer facilities, maintenance facilities for transit rolling stock, bus rapid transit lanes, bus stops and pull-outs along roadways, transit operations, and bicycle and pedestrian overpasses, lanes and bridges.
Even rural Colorado communities will benefit. For example, bus service in the Aspen and Glenwood Canyon region was recently reported to provide gas savings, reduced highway repair and lower parking demand valued at millions of dollars per year in benefits to the area.
Lakewood Mayor Bob Murphy called SB 13-048 a “common sense bill” that offers cities and counties across Colorado the flexibility to choose which transit projects to fund. He said it also helps local governments to be more responsive to feedback from citizens about what the citizens feel should be priorities for transit projects.