At last week’s regional mayors panel, sponsored by the Colorado Springs Business Journal, Mayor John Suthers announced a staggering statistic: More than 60 percent of Colorado Springs’ 6,000 lane-miles of roads are past their lifespan of 10 years.
Yes, 60 percent. Or roughly 3,600 lane-miles that need repair.
Streets are pockmarked with potholes, and drivers deal with cracked, crumbling asphalt on daily commutes. That’s not a surprise — it’s been an ongoing topic of conversation for months, as heavy rains and hail created even more problems for commuters.
The surprise: the vast backlog of needed repairs.
Suthers says addressing that backlog is his No. 1 priority as mayor. Earlier last week, he floated the idea of a 0.62 percent sales tax for five years to raise $35 million a year to address the roads and infrastructure problem. It’ll be on the ballot in November.
Sales taxes aren’t the most business friendly tax out there — and they affect poor and middle-income residents more than the wealthy. Some opponents fear that new businesses will choose to locate close to the city, but in the unincorporated parts of El Paso County, to avoid higher sales tax and to attract bargain-shoppers. Others are afraid that shoppers will choose other areas as well, meaning less tax revenue than expected to meet the city’s needs.
Some people don’t think it’s enough money to address all the roadwork that needs to be done. They believe that $35 million will only keep up with current street-maintenance needs.
Some are calling for a permanent property tax that can be used to address both roads and stormwater needs — the biggest issue faced by neighboring cities in the Pikes Peak region.
But Suthers opted for the sales tax route, knowing that stormwater improvements don’t top most voters’ concerns in Colorado Springs. Instead, he is choosing to address a problem at the top of everyone’s mind, and he plans to use general fund dollars to fix the stormwater problem.
He’s savvy enough to know that if he asks for it quickly, in his first year in office, at the first opportunity, he’s most likely to be successful. He’s not waiting for opposition to grow, for voices to muddle the argument. He knows streets need to be fixed, and there’s no time to lose.
Streets and bridges are the key to economic development, Suthers says, and he believes that fixing infrastructure will — in the long run — be the key both to business attraction and retention.
Still, as Suthers stumps for the new sales tax, he’s bound to face questions. And that’s fine — voters need to be further enlightened about the deteriorating shape of the streets in Colorado Springs.
Despite the fears of a regressive tax, despite the lingering issues with stormwater and a rocky relationship with Pueblo, street repair is the city’s top priority. It’s a vital requirement for a healthy, vibrant city, for economic development and for job growth.
Voting no on the sales tax proposal merely to keep a few extra dollars in your pocket is not only irresponsible, it’s damaging to the city’s future.
Let’s remember that 3,600 lane-miles of roads need repair — and do the right thing for businesses, for neighborhoods and for the city as a whole.