Boulder City Council members have serious concerns about a proposal from state transportation officials to put a 0.7 percent sales tax on the ballot next year.
Such a large sales tax increase at once would make it harder for local governments to pass new sales taxes for their own needs, the proposed share of the tax to go to local governments would be relatively small, and transportation needs could be better funded with a gas tax or other funding mechanism, they said at a study session Tuesday night.
Boulder Mayor Matt Appelbaum and Tracy Winfree, the city's director of public works for transportation, made a presentation to the City Council on regional discussions about transportation funding and the prospects for projects in the northwest corridor, including long-awaited commuter rail.
The Regional Transportation District estimates that with current funding, Boulder could get train service to Denver around 2042, and that train could only run every half-hour during rush hour and every hour the rest of the day because of the need to share rail lines with freight trains.
Boulder City Council members said those terms are not acceptable.
"It's going to be 30 years before we get the slow train to Denver," City Councilman Macon Cowles said. "It's getting ridiculous."
If the train only goes to Louisville, commuter trains could be staging in east Boulder but not actually serving Boulder, a prospect that Winfree said "adds insult to injury."
A study of long-term transportation needs and solutions in the northwest corridor is under way. It looks not just at train service but also bus-rapid transit along U.S. 36 and other major routes and is expected to guide funding decisions for the new tax proposal.
But some City Council members balked at supporting whatever the study recommends.
Councilwoman K.C. Becker said many people in Boulder are invested in the idea of rail service, and the council shouldn't give up on that without more concrete information.
City Council members were unanimous in wanting the state to consider other funding mechanisms for transportation.
Appelbaum said the state Legislature could implement a fee on gas and diesel sales without going to the voters because the nexus with transportation needs is so clear. However, that seems unlikely politically.
Appelbaum said he would be happy to see even a smaller sales tax placed on the ballot to leave more room for other needs.
The mechanism for sharing the sales tax with local governments hasn't been determined, but if current formulas are applied, Boulder would see about $2 million a year.
A 0.15 percent sales tax for roads that Boulder voters will consider this year could raise as much as $4.2 million.
The study session also included discussion of the transportation master plan. City Council members said the plan's focus on new programs and services to encourage cycling, walking and bus use is the right one, but they'll need more concrete information about costs and benefits of specific proposals before final adoption.
Transportation planners intend to do modeling of transit scenarios and test bike improvements in a "Living Laboratory" during the fall and incorporate those programs into the final transportation master plan, which is scheduled to be adopted next fall.
However, some information, such as ridership data to support a feasibility study of a communitywide Eco Pass program, is dependent on RTD.