Two state leaders jump-started the 2008 Economic Summit on Wednesday, giving the long and the short of the transportation scene in Colorado.
Colorado Department of Transportation Director Russell George and Carla Perez, senior transportation analyst for the governor's office, spoke at the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel early Wednesday evening. The pair were part of this year's summit, "Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Transportation and our Economic Future."
They discussed the good, the bad and the laundry list of questions facing Colorado.
The bad news is obvious, Perez said. Oil prices are up. Gasoline prices are up. State and federal funding is down. The gas tax in Colorado, the state's primary source of funding for transportation, hasn't increased in about 15 years. The roads are aging. Congestion is worsening.
"The good part is, there's a recognition that we have a problem," Perez said. Last year at this time, transportation issues weren't topping the list of priorities. Now, they are, she said.
And the controversial proposals to increase fees and toll drivers on Interstate 70 have helped get people talking, she said. A crucial issue is funding, Perez and George said. The Colorado Department of Transportation is going to receive about 30 percent less federal funding next calendar year, Perez said.
She and George noted that people don't see exactly what they're paying for transportation.
"For an average-size car, say a Toyota Camry, driving 15,000 miles a year, you're only paying $132 a year in gas tax," Perez said. "That's very affordable. The problem is people think they're paying more because they're paying close to $4 a gallon."
Under TABOR rules, Colorado can't pass a gas tax increase without voter approval, George said. Because of that, the gas tax has remained at its current level, 22 cents per gallon, since 1992.
On the surface, George said, transportation issues appear to be strictly tied to cash flow. But there's more to it, he said.
"Transportation is not all about money," George said. "It's about choice. It's about quality of life, freedom of choice. It's about economics. It's about personal safety."
Unfortunately, he said, the fund factor always snakes its way back in.
"I'm sorry to say that in government, so often the conversation does come around to money," George said. "Some of you have been in government longer than I have, and I'm guessing you get pretty weary of having to do more with less."
On the whole, Perez said she is happy government officials are discussing transportation and that the Chamber Resort Association's Economic Development Council chose that topic for its annual summit. The meeting continued with a day's worth of sessions on various topics Thursday.
Although she was happy with the talks, Perez said she wanted to make one thing clear:
"I don't think transportation is something that can be solved. We'll always have needs, we'll always need transportation and we'll never have enough money. : It is a costly business, and it has a hefty price tag."