Groups fear loss of rural dollars in CDOT shuffle
Two rural advocacy groups are questioning what’s behind a Colorado Department of Transportation proposal to redraw the boundaries of its transportation regions.
Bonnie Petersen, executive director of Club 20, and Cathy Garcia, head of its counterpart in southern Colorado, Action 22, have asked the department for more time to provide comment on a plan to reduce the number of regions from six to five and change which counties are in them.
The two said the department told them the reasons behind the change are to streamline CDOT operations, but Peterson and Garcia wonder what else might come with those changes.
They worry the changes will lead to fewer transportation dollars going to rural parts of the state as a result.
“We’re concerned with some of these changes, such as what happens with funding,” Petersen said. “They’ve given us an explanation that basically says funding will remain neutral, but we don’t know what that means. We’re skeptical and we want answers to questions.”
The change calls for doing away with District 6, which encompasses the Denver metropolitan area.
Instead, CDOT would create a much larger District 1 that would include all counties that touch the metro area, and then make more subtle changes to other districts in the state.
District 3, which includes Mesa County, for example, would gain Summit County but lose Hinsdale County.
The two women said because the change would place more than half of the state’s population in the new metro district, they wondered what that would mean for transportation funding elsewhere in the state.
“They’re changing the engineering regions without looking at the transportation commission regions, without looking at the council of government regions, without looking at the maintenance regions,” Garcia said. “All four need to be looked at at the same time.”
Garcia also said the way the department was going about making the changes seemed “a little sneaky,” saying she learned about the proposed changes just weeks ago when the deadline to comment was to expire on Nov. 2.
After complaints, that deadline was extended until today, but additional complaints about the new deadline from Petersen and others has it extended until sometime next month, the two women said.
CDOT officials didn’t return numerous calls Wednesday seeking comment.
The department has posted a map detailing the proposed changes on its website but with no explanation about what it means, or why the changes are being sought. It has released no public statements about the proposed changes. Nor has it issued a public notice announcing the comment period.
CDOT has the state divided into six transportation regions, but members of the Transportation Commission, which makes funding decisions, come from 11 districts in the state.
Under the new map, as many as six of those commissioners could have some or all of their districts inside the new mega-metro district, and that’s what gives pause to Petersen and Garcia.
“We want to understand what their ideas behind doing this really are ... because at this juncture, we question the reason for doing it,” Petersen said.
“I’m not buying this either,” Garcia added. “It throws those transportation commissioners into that new region they’re setting up in Denver. If the commissioners are responsible for voting, you know where the money’s going to go.”
Garcia, Petersen and the head of Progress 15 are all scheduled to meet with CDOT Executive Director Don Hunt later this month.
Garcia said she’s also troubled about talk she’s heard about a plan to define the commissioner districts based on population in the state, rather than lane-miles, and a proposed bill to add two new at-large members to the commission.
The Legislation Transportation Review Committee, which reviews proposed bills to be introduced into the next legislative session, has approved such a bill.
Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction and a member of that committee, has already agreed to be the Senate sponsor of a bill to add two at-large members to the panel, one from the Western Slope and the other from the Front Range.
King said he was unaware of the proposed district changes. He said it makes sense for the department to try to save taxpayer money by streamlining its operations but questioned why it has said little publicly about the matter.
Garcia, however, is worried that the Front Range member will hail from the Denver area and give that new mega-metro district another vote when it comes to splitting transportation dollars.