Ritter signs FASTER bill as cars speed past

By Jason Kosena
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

THORNTON — It’s official. At a press conference just yards from the southbound lanes of Interstate 25, Gov. Bill Ritter signed Senate Bill 108, known as FASTER, into law on Monday.

From left to right: Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce CEO Joe Blake, Gov. Bill Ritter, Speaker of the House Terrance Carroll and Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo, listen to speakers during Ritter’s signing ceremony of the FASTER bill this week.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

One of the most comprehensive transportation funding packages passed in years, the legislation — which lacked much bipartisan support — is designed to generate $265 million a year for road and bridge improvements by raising vehicle registration fees by an average of $41 a year. It also allows for enhanced tolling on yet-to-be-determined sections of roads and will implement a $2-per-day fee on vehicle rentals.

“With this bill, we will begin to work on the many unsafe bridges and roads in this state — work that I think has been neglected for far too long,” Ritter said as cars crossed I-25 on the 84th Avenue Bridge behind him.

“The people who drive over our bridges and roads deserve a 21st-century transportation system that is safe, modern and efficient. And at a time when the entire country is suffering from a recession, this legislation allows us to protect jobs, create jobs and get our economy moving again.”

Members of Statehouse Republican leadership — who opposed FASTER every step of the way through the Legislature — had instead suggested leveraging state buildings to fund road repair. They also called for lawmakers to dive into existing funds to pay for highway and bridge construction instead of imposing new fees on Colorado drivers.

Their criticism fell short, however, and Democrats, led by Sen. Dan Gibbs, of Silverthorne, and Rep. Joe Rice, of Littleton, were able to push FASTER through.

When asked if he felt the bill struck the right chord and properly addressed the state’s infrastructure needs, Ritter said, “Absolutely.”

“The (Blue Ribbon Transportation) panel recommended that we raise no less than $500 million a year in new revenue, and we looked at this as a meaningful way to repair structurally deficient bridges but (an increase) that was modest enough that people could really pay what is necessary,” Ritter said. “We believe that we struck the right balance.”

Gov. Bill Ritter signs the FASTER bill into law during a signing ceremony off I-25 and 84th Ave. in Thornton. Behind him are Sen. Suzanne Williams, Sen. Dan Gibbs and Rep. Joe Rice.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

Ritter went on to say that the state can rely on the federal government for some stimulus money to repair bridges and roads but added that one-time monies can only go so far and that the state will truly benefit by having a new funding stream dedicated solely to transportation.

Many in the business community came out in support of the bill, including Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Joe Blake. Blake said transportation infrastructure is critical to commerce and called the bill a bridge to a workable solution.

“I think today marks the fulfillment of the question of the General Assembly and the governor’s office in terms of fulfilling the capacity of leadership,” Blake said.

“The economy of this state is going to get a little gas ... it will start creating jobs in those areas of this economy that are hurting,” said Blake, adding that the bill, which took courage to pass, will start help fix and repair the state’s roads and bridges with what will be the first “reliable and predictable” revenue stream geared only for transportation infrastructure since the state’s gasoline tax was passed decades ago.

The new vehicle registration fees will go into effect July 1.

Jason@coloradostatesman.com