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Legislature Approves State Transit Funding

by Margi Ness

Advocates for public transportation finally have something to cheer about. For the first time in Colorado history, state funds for public transportation were approved by the State Legislators. 

“In the past, state transportation funds have been used exclusively for roads and bridges, said Joe Tempel, Board President of the Colorado Mobility Coalition, “giving Colorado the dubious distinction of being one of only five states giving no funding for transit. We are delighted by the Legislators action.” The Colorado Mobility Coalition(CMC), Colorado Association of Transportation Agencies (CASTA), Transit Alliance, and many other organizations and individuals worked hard to educate legislators on the need for state funds. Tempel said that during the last legislative session, the CMC testified at the legislature many times, published and distributed free of charge to all legislators a book entitled, “Smart Transportation: Choices for Colorado and monthly “Transit Briefs”, both of which also had wide statewide distribution, and initiated and collected resolutions for transit funding.

The result of their work was the passage of a compromise transportation bill that included the transit funding. The bill passed with strong, bi-partisan support – the votes
were 29 to 6 in the Senate and 44 to 10 in the House - with Governor Owens signing it into law. 

A provision of the legislation requires that ten percent of all Senate Bill 1 funds (state revenues dedicated for transportation) must be spent on transit. Previously, ten percent of Senate Bill 1 funds were allowed to be spent on transit, but none ever were. Estimates vary on when SB1 funds will be available and on the amount of funds. Recent projections by the Colorado Department of Transportation indicate that $25.5 million will be available for transit in 2006 with a total of $675 million available over 15 years. 

Questions remain regarding how the funds will be allocated. CDOT is grappling with the definition of transit, whether the funds have to be spent on “strategic projects” and, if so, the definition of a strategic transit project, and what criteria will be used to evaluate projects. “The Coalition is initiating meetings among key transit providers and advocates to discuss these issues and offer suggestions to CDOT, said Tempel. “We want to be sure that transit people define transit, not the road and bridges guys.” 

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