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Transportation authority would jump-start transit, road construction

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Regional Transportation Authority

As anyone regularly stalled at the intersection of Academy and Austin Bluffs will tell you, the recent news that Colorado Springs ranks first in gridlock for cities its size comes as little or no surprise.

Traffic congestion often rises to the top in community surveys as the biggest challenge facing the Pikes Peak area. On Nov. 2, voters in Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, Green Mountain Falls and rural El Paso County will decide whether to approve a 1 percent sales and use tax increase to authorize as much as $1 billion in new spending to tackle the problem.

The ballot initiative would fund road construction projects and repairs and beef up underused city bus systems. It would also create the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA), composed of volunteer city councilors, county commissioners and citizens and designed to oversee tax receipts. After 10 years, 55 percent of the tax -- earmarked for capital improvements -- would expire. The remaining 45 percent -- earmarked for road maintenance and improved public transportation -- would be perpetual. Food, medicines and utility bill purchases would be excluded from the tax.

"We're spending four times as much time in congestion as we were 20 years ago," said Dan Stuart, chairman of the Pikes Peak Transportation Coalition, a group advocating the tax hike. He faults a deteriorating and malfunctioning road system clogged by increasing numbers of drivers for congestion and more frequent accidents.

But critics question whether such a high price tag should be shouldered by the general public. "We're being overcharged," said Dave Gardner, founder of local growth watchdog group Save the Springs. "New developments are being undercharged."

Instead, Gardner would like to see new developments pay an additional tax to fund road projects. He calls the RTA proposal a "Band-Aid" that distracts community leaders from long-term solutions like focusing on public transportation. Gardner supports the portion earmarked for maintenance and transit systems, but opposes the ballot question overall. Others, such as county commissioner candidate Douglas Bruce, simply reject raising taxes.

The RTA proposal also suffers from missing communities: Fountain, Monument and Palmer Lake voted against putting it on the ballot. Fountain cited a disproportionate amount of projects for Colorado Springs and a lack of power sharing in the proposed RTA. "The outlying cities contributing taxes were getting little or no benefit," said Ken Barela, Fountain's mayor. "That's not the way to start a partnership; that's not regionalism."

Dan Wilcock

  • Transportation authority would jump-start transit, road construction

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