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Bennet Says Lack Of Congressional Action Could Take Toll On Roads

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DENVER (CBS4) – Transportation and road projects always seem to be stop-and-go because of funding, and that problem could get worse after Congress failed to pass a long-term transporation bill during their most recent session.

As a result, states like Colorado can’t plan ahead without assurances about federal money.

“What we can’t do is continue on this course where we pass one short term extension after another short term extension,” said Sen. Michael Bennet on Tuesday while aboard an RTD light rail train.

Bennet called a town hall meeting of sorts on the train to call attention to what he says is a pending disaster that could put transportation projects around the state in jeopardy.

“In most of the country there’s a building season for infrastructure. You can’t build it in the winter in a lot of places, so you have to do the planning, and the spring and the summer are the critical times for doing that. And once again in its complete lack of infinite wisdom what Congress has done is created a situation where it has made it harder — not easier — to plan,” Bennet told CBS4.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

“All we’re doing is keeping the lights on at this point. … What we need to do is come together and figure out a way to create a comprehensive approach to transportation and other infrastructure — water, roads, transit.”

With the country’s transportation trust fund in danger of going broke, Congress failed to pass a long-term fix before going on summer recess. They only approved money through May and left states like Colorado trying to plan long-range with no certainty.

“This slows the entire transportation industry down as we look to do business with the private sector and they look at our own government as a risk and charge us for that risk or degree of uncertainty,” said RTD CEO and General Manager Phillip Washington.

Washington was among the government and business leaders who met with Bennet on board the train to talk about the impact of the dwindling trust fund.

Sen. Michael Bennet (credit: CBS)

Sen. Michael Bennet (credit: CBS)

Approximately 70 percent of roads are rated poor or mediocre in Colorado and public-private partnerships are becoming commonplace.

“This is the wave of the future especially when people don’t want tax increases,” Washington said.

Bennet says Colorado is a model for financing huge projects like FasTracks with a combination of funding sources.

Still, he says that without predictable federal funds the state’s safety and economy are at risk.

“We ought to be trying to figure out as a country how to take a long view. We are competing with people all over the world and if we don’t have the infrastructure to compete we’re not going to be able to compete,” he said.

The federal transportation trust fund relies heavily on the federal gas tax, which hasn’t been raised in 20 years. And as cars have become more efficient, there is less of that tax generated.

Recently the president announced a new center to help local governments and road businesses form public-private partnerships.

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