Polls favor tax hikes to fix highways

DEAN HUMPHREY/Daily Sentinel file photo—Well over half — 63.7 percent — of respondents to a transportation survey by three regional groups in Colorado said they were willing to pay more money to improve the state road system. A gasoline tax was the top choice of tax approaches that respondents selected. Above, rural traffic is shown north of Grand Junction.

Voters in rural Colorado would be willing to pay more in gas taxes to improve roads they see as fair at best, a study by three rural organizations suggests.

The survey is contrary to polling that suggested a sales-tax increase would be the most attractive way to raise money for transportation in Colorado.

“We continually were being told by our members that the gas tax was the best route to take,” Terri Binder, a co-chairwoman the Club 20 Transportation Committee, said in an email. “Our poll (though I am sure that will be debunked because it is non-scientific) showed that people were more inclined to raise the gas tax, just as we had been saying.”

Well over half — 63.7 percent — of survey respondents said they were willing to pay more money to improve the state system.

A gasoline tax was the top choice of tax approaches that respondents selected.

The results were distributed by Club 20, the West Slope lobbying and advocacy organization that was born half a century ago to press for better roads west of the Continental Divide, and Action 22 and Progressive 15, which represent southern and northeast Colorado, respectively.

Respondents included 428 people who live in all but eight of Colorado’s 64 counties.

A higher gas tax was the choice of 60 percent of respondents when asked which funding mechanism they would prefer. Less than half the respondents listed the sales tax or a vehicle-miles traveled tax. A boost in the income tax was the least popular of methods offered to respondents.

While the survey by the rural organizations counters the conventional polling wisdom that a sales tax would be a better choice, there has been no groundswell for increasing the sales tax, either, said Doug Aden of Grand Junction, chairman of the Colorado Transportation Commission.

“Either way, it’s interesting,” because respondents said they were aware of diminishing dollars for transportation and “realize that something’s gotta give here,” Aden said.

Most respondents said they were aware that state gasoline taxes hadn’t been increased since 1992 and that the Colorado Department of Transportation budget was down by $500 million since 2008.

By and large, respondents rated roads in other parts of the state as better than their own, but most said Colorado’s roads were OK at best. The largest portion of respondents, 44 percent, said they drove more than 100 miles a week.

Western Slope respondents listed transportation second among the region’s needs, just behind more business and jobs. They also listed economic development as being the most significant beneficiary of transportation spending, over agriculture, energy, quality of life, health care and education.

Maintenance is the top transportation need across the state, respondents said, with Western Slope residents choosing it over spending on safety, transit, new roads, safe routes to schools, walking trails and bike paths, in that order.

Bike paths were the last choice in all three rural regions, while they were third from the bottom in the metro area, which listed walking trails in last place.

Other polls have shown that road conditions, safety and features such as passing lanes and shoulders are more important in rural Colorado, Aden said. Road capacity is the main topic of discussion in the metro area, he said.

“I do believe that people living in rural Colorado understand the importance of transportation as compared to metro area residents,” Binder wrote, nothing that she now lives on the Front Range. “Rural residents realize that a safe, sustainable transportation system is a major contributor to their economies. I believe after sitting in traffic a lot since moving back to the Front Range that people have become accustomed to wasting their time and gas sitting in traffic and seem to be happy with the way it is or they would be more in tune to fixing the problem.”


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