Saturday, Feb. 9, 2020
Boulder residents could see double or even triple transportation funding efforts on ballot this fall as city leaders this week moved closer to a transportation fee even as county and state officials plan their own road-rescuing measures.
City council on Tuesday gave the OK to studying a transportation mobility fee. The idea rose to the top of desirable revenue-generating options from among a working group of community stakeholders.
The fee could take a variety of forms but most likely will appear on utility bills alongside charges for sewer and stormwater. Mobility fees are common throughout the country. Sometimes they are linked to the typical traffic trips generated by a particular type of property: retail, residential, office, etc. In Loveland, land owners are charged according to how much of their properties front a public right-of-way.
At a study session last year, staff said that a mobility fee could raise $5 million per year. That’s just a drop in the bucket of the nearly $22 million in annual unmet needs plus $20 million in capital projects and a $100 million-plus vision for transit.
The county, at least, hopes to get at the transit issue with its own transportation and affordable housing tax. Details are being mulled and polled for now, though Mayor Sam Weaver said on Tuesday that any tax will be divvied up in thirds, with 2/3 toward transportation and 1/3 reserved for affordable housing.
Governor Jared Polis also briefly mentioned transportation funding in his 2020 State of the State address. Two competing taxes failed at the ballot in November, though Proposition CC won support from a majority of Boulder County voters. A bonding measure was delayed by lawmakers in 2019; it is slated for a vote this year.
RTD is also struggling, cutting service across the Denver metro. It’s unclear what funding measures might emerge to prop up the transit provider.
Boulder’s needs go beyond buses and first-/last-mile options. Basic maintenance is being deferred, staff has testified before council. Traffic signals need upgraded to reduce collisions; streets need redesigned to accommodate bike lanes and sidewalks; buses need to be switched from diesel to electric.
Councilman Mark Wallach noted that the mobility fee is small potatoes when it comes to funding. “Is it a bit like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic?” he asked.
“There is no one silver bullet” to solve all our transportation needs, said Chris Hagelin, senior transportation planner and interim GO Boulder director. But a mobility fee “is a start.”
Council will have to determine its priorities for what to fund with the fee, which will have to be linked directly to the impacts Boulder is attempting to mitigate. The study itself will cost between $60,000 and $75,000, already accommodated in the 2020 transportation budget.
Any eventual funding mechanism will be run through the city’s in-development equity lens. Exemptions or rebates can be crafted for lower-income residents, staff said Tuesday.
While looking at socioeconomic equality, councilman Bob Yates said, let’s also consider the balance of burden between residents and in-commuters. Nearly 64,000 people drive into Boulder each day to work.
Yates raised the idea of a head tax being looked at as part of the study. Former councilwoman Cindy Carlisle floated one in 2018; it was seriously considered by the council in 2016-2017 as well as a way of paying for a citywide EcoPass.
“I’m always up for a head tax,” councilman Adam Swetlik said.
Head taxes are common. Denver has one. But the concept didn’t find consensus from the working group. That and other measures can be pursued in the future, Hagelin said. The mobility fee is being pushed forward now because implementation would be quicker than a complicated policy like congestion pricing.
The city will execute a competitive bidding process for a study contractor. Staff will then return to council to gather more information about priorities for funding before launching the fee study.
View a thread of Tuesday’s discussion here.
— Shay Castle, email@example.com, @shayshinecastle
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