BIG THOMPSON CANYON, Colo. -- Governor John Hickenlooper signed a bill Thursday that gives a big boost to Colorado's beleaguered transportation system.
That boost was made possible by economic growth in Colorado and a corresponding increase in sales and income tax revenue.
Sen. John Cooke, R-Weld County, told Denver7 that the boost will allow the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) to make $495 million worth of improvements this year, and $150 million next year.
"I'm ecstatic today," said Mary Myers, a Big Thompson Canyon resident. "I'm very happy."
Myers' family has ties to the canyon that date back to the 1940s.
She said the last two years have been very difficult, traversing in and out, while work crews rebuilt a large section of the highway that was washed out during the massive 2013 flood.
Hickenlooper signed the transportation bill, in the canyon, near a bridge that was part of the reconstruction project.
"This curve has been wiped out on a couple of occasions now," Myers said. "I think this bridge will completely eliminate that problem."
CDOT executive director Mike Lewis said highways all across Colorado are just as important to the people who drive on them, as U.S. 34 is to the people of Larimer County.
The big question is, which projects will CDOT fund with the cash earmarked by Senate Bill 1?
CDOT spokeswoman Amy Ford said they haven't come up with a list yet.
She said there are other lists, one of them for $6 billion worth of projects that was drawn up in the event that voters weigh in and approve more transportation funding in November.
Among the projects on that list:
- Widening I-25 between Castle Rock and Monument
- Widening I-25 in Northern Colorado
- Improving I-70 from Floyd Hill to Idaho Springs
- Widening U.S. 50 near Pueblo
- Realigning I-70 between DeBeque and Palisade
- Replacing bridges over I-25 at 23rd Ave. and Speer Blvd.
- Add a general purpose lanes from 84th to Thornton Pkwy.
- Reconstruction of the 88th Ave. bridge
- Reconstruction of the I-70/Kipling interchange
It's possible that some of the projects on this list could make the new list, or not.
Ford said CDOT will decide whether to spend the money earmarked by Senate Bill 1 on a major project, a few major projects, or whether to "spread the money really thin" and fund needed projects across the state.
She said they'll take the next few weeks to decide what makes the most sense.
Long time shortage
Funding transportation improvements has long been a challenge in Colorado.
The state gas tax has not been increased since 1993, and there have been ongoing squabbles, between Democrats and Republicans, over how to fund infrastructure improvements.
This year, both sides reached agreement on the bill which passed unanimously out of the Republican controlled Senate.
Sen. Cooke said the money available comes from an abundance of sales and income taxes generated by Colorado's growth.
"It's only a start," said Rep. Faith Winters, D-Adams County, "but it's going to make a difference."
Winters said voters may get a chance to weight in on whether more money should be spent.
"The legislature has done everything it can," she said. "Now it's time for voters to get involved too."