Monday, March 2, 2009

FASTER OK With Ritter

A bill that would raise Coloradoan's motor vehicle registration fees to pay for highway and bridge improvements and repairs was signed into law by Gov. Bill Ritter today.

SB 108, which has been given the acronym "FASTER," would generate more than $250 million per year for the state's transportation system. Some of the money would be used to repair more than 100 structurally deficient bridges.

"With this bill, we'll be able to begin work on the many unsafe bridges and roads all across this state -- work that has been neglected for far too long," Ritter said at the signing ceremony, which was held near a bridge at I-25 and 84th Avenue. "And at a time when the entire country is suffering from a recession, this legislation will let us save jobs, create jobs and help us get our economy moving again."

The measure, which drew nearly unanimous GOP opposition, grew out of Ritter's Blue Ribbon Transportation Finance and Implementation Panel. That advisory commission began meeting in 2007 and eventually won support for its recommendations from many business organizations and local governments.

The bill will allow local governments to toll existing roads in order to generate revenues. It will also impose a small fee on rental car transactions.

According to the measure's sponsors, SB 108 will cause the average driver to pay about $2.60 more per month to register a motor vehicle in the first year of the law's effect and an additional $3.50 per month when the new law is fully implemented in 2012.

Some of the money raised will go into a State Bridge Enterprise fund dedicated to repairing damaged or decaying bridges. That fund will be phased in over three years and will finance a $100 million annual investment in bridge repairs and replacements.

The new law also:

1. establishes a "High-Performance Transportation Enterprise" that aims to encourage innovative financing strategies, including certificates of participation, public-private partnerships, operating concession agreements, user-fee financing and design/build contracting;

2. allocates, upon full implementation, $150 million per year to state and local road-safety projects, with the existing distribution formula of 60 percent to the state, 22 percent to counties and 18 percent to municipalities maintained;

3. gives veto authority over proposed public highway user-fees by requiring 100 percent approval of federal, state and impacted local governments before establishing a highway user-fee or congestion-based tolling;

4. allocates $5 million of the funds each year to the State Transit and Rail Fund proposed in SB 94;

5. allows the Regional Transportation District to seek voter approval of financial measures without legislative approval;

6. creates an "Efficiency and Accountability Committee" within the Colorado Department of Transportation, comprised of private sector contractors and engineers, to identify financial and operational inefficiencies; and

7. requires CDOT's executive director to report annually to the General Assembly on Efficiency and Accountability Committee activities and implementation recommendations.

SB 108 was sponsored by Sen. Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, and Rep. Joe Rice, D-Littleton.

"FASTER is an important part of the solution to a huge problem," Rice said. "FASTER will protect and create thousands of jobs for Coloradans, and it will allow us to address some significant safety concerns, as we repair and rebuild hundreds of crumbling bridges and many miles of our rutted roads."