Category Archives: Policy

Aspen’s Green Challenge

When it comes to global warming, writes Brent Garnder Smith, Aspen is probably not as green as it thinks it is.

And it is certainly not as green as it should be.

Smith was writing about the ideas presented at the Aspen Ideas Festival by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.

“There is a saying at the Pentagon that a vision without resources is a hallucination,” Friedman said. “And I think right now we are in the middle of a big green hallucination.”

“We’re talking about preventing the doubling of CO in the atmosphere from the pre-industrial age to the year 2050,” he said. To do that, Friedman said, “We have to conserve as much energy as we’re now using as a world.”

Friedman said one way to move forward on the vast scale required to meet that goal is to change the definition of the word “green.” “So I’ve been trying to redefine green as the most capitalistic, patriotic, geo-strategic, pro-American, pro-growth, future-oriented thing you can do, be or say.”

But he said, “Green has not gone down Main Street at all at the scale we need. Not even close.”

And so while Aspen has gotten a lot of positive press coverage for its efforts to combat global warming, Friedman’s speech begs for a reassessment of the community’s efforts.

Read the full article . . .

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NYC looks toward congestion pricing

New York City is already an expensive place to drive – tolls are $6 and a parking garage for just an hour can run you $20.  Now the mayor wants to make it so costly some people won’t even bother driving and will take mass transit instead.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is proposing to reduce traffic and pollution by charging cars $8 and trucks $21 to enter the busiest parts of Manhattan.

New York would become the first U.S. city to adopt a “congestion pricing” plan of this magnitude. The proposal is similar to a system that London has used since 2003, and officials there say it has significantly reduced congestion.

Read the full article . . . 

The Power of Green, Thomas Friedman NY Times

“Green is the new red, white and blue.”

Hot and Cold: New York Times Editorial April 8

The world’s scientists are telling us with increasing confidence that the costs of doing nothing to regulate greenhouse gas emissions will be far greater than the costs of acting now. Read full editorial.

Auto CEO pushing fuel independence

From Al Lewis at the October 22, 2006 Denver Post . . .

AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson wants to sell you a car, and he wants to raise the price you pay for gasoline every year for 10 years.

AutoNation, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is the largest U.S. car dealer with 333 dealerships in 16 states (including 17 in Colorado), and more than 100,000 vehicles for sale online at http://www.AutoNation.com. Before Jackson took this job in 1999, he was CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA.

Higher gasoline taxes, he says, will curb America’s lethal addiction to foreign oil – a habit that inevitably puts money in the hands of terrorists and sends U.S. troops into deadly battles.

“Americans do not want to go on like this,” Jackson said in a telephone interview. “Their dollars are going to support both sides of a war. It makes no sense.”

Jackson has been lobbying for a higher federal gasoline tax, which has not budged from 18.4 cents a gallon since 1993. He wants to hike it 10 cents per year for a decade. He hopes this will force consumers to conserve and provide economic incentives for alternative fuel technologies.

The Fortune 200 CEO describes himself as a Republican, a fiscal conservative, strong on national defense and a free-market capitalist.

“You can’t leave national security to the free market,” Jackson said. “Five presidents have said this is an issue of national security. … But they haven’t put forth a policy to address it. We’ve gone from importing one-third of our oil to importing two-thirds. And fuel economy has been stuck at 21 miles per gallon for 25 years.”

The problem isn’t automakers or even big oil companies. The problem is American consumers, who’ve consistently chosen size and speed over fuel efficiency.

“If you want people to drink less, you tax alcohol. If you want them to smoke less, you tax cigarettes,” Jackson said.

“Let’s say the issue is obesity. Right now, what the federal government is doing is putting out a plate of broccoli and a plate of donuts, and it’s saying you should really eat broccoli, but we’re having a half-price sale on donuts.”

Gasoline has plunged to less than $2.25 a gallon. Jackson said he believes consumer behavior only begins to change at $3, and really changes at $6.

“The last thing that OPEC wants is for America to get serious about energy, conservation and the development of alternatives,” Jackson said.

In Jackson’s view, gasoline should be taxed, and alternatives should get tax breaks. But who wants to talk about taxes just before an election?

“The state of affairs in Washington is pretty depressing,” Jackson said. “They will say that they completely agree with my position but are unwilling to stick their neck out. Or they argue that the free market will address this issue. And when I point out that the free market hasn’t fixed it in 25 years, they shrug their shoulders and walk away.”

Jackson says his CEO acquaintances haven’t been much help, either.

“Most are supportive,” he said. “But few are willing to say it. The perception is that you’ll be tarred and feathered.”

An increasing number of economists, however, favor hiking gasoline taxes. Many argue that current gasoline prices do not reflect costs that are foisted upon society – such as pollution or the military required to protect oil fields.

Last month, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, who has long toed a conservative line on taxes, told a group of executives in Massachusetts that he favored hiking the gas tax. “That’s the way to get consumption down,” he said. “It’s a national security issue.”

Then came Robert Lutz, vice chairman for worldwide vehicle development at General Motors. “I’d say the best thing the (U.S.) government can do is to raise the gas tax by 10 or 15 cents a year until it reaches European levels,” Lutz said at the Paris Motor Show on Sept. 28.

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, author of the global warming tome, “An Inconvenient Truth,” called for a tax on all fossil fuels in 1993. What we got instead was a 4.3-cent hike in the gasoline tax, a move so unpopular it helped Republicans take back Congress in 1994.

“If you read Al Gore’s book, he doesn’t call for anything effective,” said Jackson. “The inconvenient truth is that we need a higher gasoline tax.”

Funding is big hurdle for I-70 mass transit

A second article on I-70 planning . . .

BY BOB BERWYN
summit daily news
October 20, 2006

COPPER MOUNTAIN – There is widespread consensus among I-70 coalition members that mass transit needs to be a big part of any long-term solution for the I-70 mountain corridor. But federal and state highway officials said transit proponents shouldn’t rely on massive government funding.

Planning and building a transit system will require not only innovative technology, but an equally creative financing mechanism, most likely through a combination of statewide taxes and bonds, experts said Thursday during the I-70 Coalition transit workshop and retreat at Copper Mountain.

Through 2010, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has budgeted about $65 million for I-70 corridor improvements, with a bigger pot of about $1 billion available for strategic projects. Funding beyond 2010 is uncertain, said CDOT’s Joyce Bunkers.

“There is no silver bullet for funding,” added Brian Pinkerton, CDOT program engineer for Region 1, which covers most of the I-70 mountain corridor. “Without some kind of change, we will not have enough money to keep roads and bridges in current condition,” Pinkerton added.

The most frequently discussed transit alternatives, including various fixed guideway systems running from DIA to the Eagle County airport or beyond, could cost as much as $6 billion. For the sake of comparison, Pinkerton said CDOT’s annual budget runs about $800 million.

And the federal government is probably not in a position to pony up that kind of additional cash, said Charmaine Knighton, of the Federal Transit Authority (FTA). Knighton outlined several funding programs for transit systems, and explained that the FTA is looking for projects that give some real bang for the bucks. Under a rigorous evaluation and rating system, the agency looks at the ratio of cost to passengers carried per mile. Other criteria include whether the system serves low-income populations, whether there is employment near stations and whether the projects offer environmental benefits.

“It’s very expensive terrain to put any kind of a system in, whether it’s highway or transit … it’s an extremely expensive environment to work in,” Pinkerton said, briefly touching on the challenges of addressing environmental concerns, as well as potential impacts to communities along the corridor.

While he didn’t mention any specific towns, concerns are greatest in Clear Creek County, where any type of highway or transit construction is sure to have significant impacts to communities like Georgetown, Idaho Springs and Silver Plume.

The federal government is looking to move the most people for less money, Pinkerton said.

“For every dollar spent, how many people go how far?” Pinkerton said, simplifying the FTA’s funding equation. “I don’t think the money is going to come from one particular source. It’s going to have to come from a multitude of financing options,” he concluded.



Statewide solution

Those options could include a statewide sales tax or a levy on gasoline, said Alan Matlosz, senior vice president of George K. Baum and Company.

“There is no limit to the amount of money to fund the project … the difficulty is, you have to pay it back,” said Matlosz, whose company provides investment banking and financial advisory services to local governments throughout Colorado.

Matlosz outlined several ways that the I-70 coalition might be able to raise the money through existing mechanisms already authorized under state laws, including formation of a metro district that could levy property taxes, or a regional transportation authority that could be funded by sales taxes.

A regional transit authority would require a complex intergovernmental agreement and voter approval for a sales tax increase, vehicle registration fees of up to $10, as well as a 2 percent lodging tax could also be levied by a regional transit authority, Matlosz explained.

Focusing in on the eight counties represented in the coalition, Matlosz said that, based on some table-top calculations, a 1 percent sales tax could raise about $52 million annually, based on current taxable retail sales in the region. A $10 vehicle registration fee would generate another $2.24 million, he said.

Dallas, Phoenix, Santa Fe, Atlanta and San Jose all have sales-tax-funded transit projects, he said.

“They’re easier to get passed – people just don’t like property taxes,” Matlosz said.

A statewide one-cent gas tax hike could raise about $25 million annually, while a 10-cent hike could fund about $4 billion worth of improvements, Matlosz said.

“There are mechanisms to raise funds through a district or transit authority. The challenge is to figure out what to tax, where to tax and how to spend the money,” he concluded.

“This state has never had a designated funding transit source,” said I-70 coalition director Flo Raitano, adding that a one-half percent statewide sales tax could finance about $4 billion worth of bonds.

Raitano said the gas tax idea warrants caution and sensitivity to the concerns of people living in rural areas who, out of necessity, drive a lot.

The transit workshop wrapped up Friday with a facilitated session aimed at identifying areas of agreement and disagreement on transit performance criteria and on management and operating principles.

The coalition website is at http://www.i70mtncorridor.com.
For more info on transit options, go to http://www.i70mountaintransit.org.

Workshop looks at I-70 transit options

Communities, counties and nonprofit organizations discuss opitions for the main east-west transporation corridor in Colorado

BOB BERWYN
summit daily news
October 19, 2006

COPPER MOUNTAIN – Although the idea of mass transit in the I-70 corridor may still seem like pie-in-the-sky stuff, a pair of neighboring states have aggressively pushed ahead with their own plans to address transportation needs in urbanized corridors.

Thursday, Project managers for New Mexico’s Rail Runner system and the Utah Transit Authority outlined their efforts at the start of the I-70 Coalition’s transit workshop and retreat at Copper Mountain.

Government leadership and buy-in from the business community were crucial to designing and executing transit plans in both cases. In the Albuquerque to Santa Fe corridor, Gov. Bill Richardson put some of his political capital on the line, said Rail Runner project manager Chris Blewett.

“He (Richardson) said, ‘I’m going to have the first phase of this done in two years.’ It was the most important statement he could have made,” Blewett said.

“A lot of people thought this was crazy … People kept saying, ‘You can’t do this.’ We didn’t accept any of the conventional wisdom. We kept saying, ‘Why not?'” Blewett said. “There was a lot of skepticism. People say nothing ever gets done in New Mexico. That may have worked to our advantage,” Blewett said.

The first phase of the project, between Belen and Albuquerque, was completed in just more than two years, just slightly behind the schedule announced by Gov. Richardson, Blewett said, going on to explain that it required an innovative approach.

“We used a streamlined procurement process. We had no public process and not a single intergovernmental agreement, we didn’t do ridership projections, and we had only three budget meetings in two-and-a-half years,” Blewett said, eliciting a laugh from the crowd. “We tried to make this thing believable and real.”

“We tried to adopt a European attitude,” Blewett continued. “This isn’t about today. This is about New Mexico’s future.”

Dillon Mayor Barbara Davis said the I-70 Coalition could take a page from the New Mexico playbook by trying not to get too bogged down in the process and losing sight of the long-term goal.

Along Utah’s Wasatch Front, squeezed in between the mountains and the Great Salt Lake, key stakeholders recognized that transportation is the backbone of the state’s economy, said Steve Meyer, engineering and construction manager for the Utah Transit Authority. About 80 percent of the state’s population lives in the corridor and the movement of goods constitutes a $100 billion per year industry, Meyer explained.

Meyer said winning over the private sector was key to moving ahead with the mass transit project in the corridor, where ridership is already double the projected level. Meyer said the state transit agency took a bare-bones, no frills approach – for example buying used railroad cars from other areas. The Utah rail system will serve demand equivalent to an entire lane on I-15, he said.

“It shows you can get it done,” Vail town manager Stan Zemler said after the morning session. “We need to cut the same path and not accept no. And we need to find a statewide solution,” Zemler said. “We need to keep an eye on the PEIS process and make sure it offers a multi-modal solution with transit as a component,” he said, referring to a current Colorado Department of Transportation planning effort. “We have to get a transit corridor secured and a commitment to transit,” Zemler concluded.

Breckenridge town manager Tim Gagen said the I-70 question requires a statewide solution.

“My guess is that RTD will be expanded to play a statewide role,” Gagen said, explaining that there is no reason to re-invent the wheel by creating a new agency.

Gagen said there is still the looming question of how to integrate the short-term demand for more highway capacity with the long-term need for a transit alternative.

Both Zemler and Gagen said the examples from Utah and New Mexico were illustrative, but emphasized that the I-70 corridor is a unique scenario requiring a unique solution.



The workshop and retreat continues today with sessions on funding, as well as a transit technology expo.