Boulder, Broomfield area leaders see hope for transportation funding

No one is expecting a commuter rail system between Denver and Longmont to be completed in the next couple of years, but government leaders representing Boulder and Broomfield counties are feeling confident that 2021 could be a big year for other — perhaps more modest — infrastructure projects.

“Infrastructure and reliable transportation are important to all Americans and all Coloradans,” U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse said during a video played Thursday evening during a policy roundtable hosted by the Northwest Chamber Alliance.

The problem, of course, is that infrastructure projects are expensive and Colorado has limited funding sources for such endeavors.

The state’s gas tax, the main funding source for transportation projects, hasn’t been raised in three decades, and “over time, the funding source has eroded,” state Sen. Stephen Fenberg, D-Boulder, said.

As the state has transitioned to more multimodal transportation, more public transit, more interconnected communities and more electric cars, the amount of gas has decreased, resulting in less revenue for infrastructure projects, he said.

Local leaders agreed that there need to be other ways of raising money.

The federal government “gets to print their own money, we don’t.”

Neguse noted that the federal government’s three rounds of COVID-19 stimulus included tens of billions of dollars to be routed to local infrastructure projects, citing local examples such as the Berthoud mobility hub and the Colorado Highway 119 active signal system between Longmont and Boulder.

There’s a chance that the federal spigot could be turned on again this year as many state and local leaders are pushing Congress and the White House to turn their attention to a massive infrastructure spending bill when the COVID-19 crisis abates.

Boulder County Commissioner Claire Levy noted that the Broomfield and Boulder area’s willingness to collaborate on regional transportation projects ought to set them up well when it comes time to dole out funds.

“There are a lot of partnerships going on where we can come together and get these projects going,” she said. “… All of the regional cooperation going on puts us in a good position to use those (state and federal) funds when they’re available.”

Maybe some of those funds might even go toward a rail system.

If local, state and federal agencies can work together, “I think we’re closer than we’ve been to getting the rail complete,” Sen. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, said. But she acknowledged that’s still a long way away.

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