DENVER– The Colorado Transportation Legislation Review Committee urged Colorado Department of Transportation Executive Director Donald E. Hunt to speed up construction projects – and quit sitting on unspent money.
In response, Hunt and Governor John Hickenlooper have proposed the RAMP (Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships) program to expedite construction projects.
“Efficient and effective use of public money is at the core of this effort,” said Hickenlooper. “This change in fiscal management will allow CDOT to make improvements to the state’s transportation system and give the construction industry a needed boost.”
The RAMP programs will allow CDOT to tap additional funding of $300 million over a 5-year period to initiative road construction projects in urban and rural areas in the state. The projects will be determined by the Governor-appointed, 11-member Colorado Transportation Commission.
“The program doesn’t solve the state’s long-term transportation needs,” said Hickenlooper, “but it does accelerate many projects that might otherwise have had to sit longer.”
State Rep. Max Tyler (D-Lakewood) had complained that CDOT has sat on money rather than initiating construction projects and creating badly needed jobs. He crafted a letter, signed by most of the Colorado Transportation Review Committee (TLRC) members, urging Hunt to expedite the projects.
“As of June 30, 2012, it appears that CDOT had available, or at least unencumbered, over $97.8 million, according to the Joint Budget Committee. The TLRC would like to see these and any other available funds in operation as quickly as possible, and any delay in expenditure be minimized. We recommend that CDOT evaluate its cash inflows and outflows, determine an appropriate range of cash on hand, and modify project commitments as appropriate,” stated the letter to Hunt.
The committee’s letter submitted a list of questions about how projects can be expedited and asked Hunt and/or his staff to provide answers at the January 2013 meeting of the Joint House and Senate Transportation Committee.
But not every committee member agreed with the premise of Tyler’s letter.
State Rep. Robert Ramirez (R-Westminster) said that it sounded like a pitch for union jobs. The Republican lawmaker also noted the large amount of campaign money from unions in this past election to Democrats such as Taylor and Tracy Kraft-Sharp of Arvada who defeated Ramirez.
“Max Tyler is a big one for public-private partnerships, but only if it’s union-organized workers in the private companies,” said Ramirez.
Hickenlooper and Hunt explained in a media release that CDOT does not advertise a project for construction bids until the money is “in the bank.” For that reason, CDOT may save instead of expending money over a period of years. Because some projects are executed in phases over several years, those funds are also held and then released periodically to pay for the construction.
That is slated to change somewhat under the RAMP program. CDOT will no longer wait to initiate multi-year projects until funding is secured, instead the funds will be acquired and paid during the phases.
This effort will match project expenditures with available revenues and allow CDOT to fund additional transportation projects over the next five years. According to the governor’s press release, every $1.5 million spent on transportation projects sustains or creates 10.55 jobs.
CDOT intends on implementing RAMP in early 2013.
“This is a more efficient and effective means of project delivery and good way to get more people back to work,” said Hunt. “We have more certainly in federal funding that we have had in the last four years.”
Tylerhad told the TLRC that the letter was necessary to push for more jobs – and identified a stalemate within what he said was the “culture” of CDOT.
Explaining that climate, Tyler recalled a “quick, interesting dialogue between (CDOT’s) chief engineer and chief financial officer – and I think there’s a lot of push between those two divisions about whether this money should be spent… I think that a push from our side and a push from the legislature… would be a real plus.”
“I’m worried about anything that comes out of that office. It sounds like more of the same,” said a skeptical Ramirez. “Spend the money and get if from somewhere else.”