Did the “Pothole Tax” do what was promised?

In November of 2015, Colorado Springs voters approved ballot issue 2C —AKA The Pothole Tax— and it’s now up for renewal. At the time, they called it a temporary increase to the sales tax. We were doubtful that it would be temporary, clearly for good reason. In his 2015 State of the City address, Mayor John Suthers said of that year’s version of 2C:

The November 3 ballot will contain a referendum asking Colorado Springs voters to approve a .62% sales tax increase for five years. That would raise approximately $50 million per year or $250 million over five years to be used only for road maintenance and repair. While we would likely need to spend that amount for 10 years to get our roads to where they need to be, this will allow the voters to assess our progress and decide whether to extend the tax.

That 2015 vote wasn’t even close. Almost 65% of Colorado Springs voters had hit one too many potholes, and checked the “yes” box. They were at the end of their rope and their cars were suffering damage. They rolled the dice and hoped politicians would be true to their word and use the new tax revenue stream to fix the roads.  So now it’s our turn as taxpayers to do what Mayor Suthers suggested in his 2015 address: “Assess our progress and decide whether to extend the tax.”

Before we get to that assessment, if you want a quick reminder of who funded the 2015 campaign for “Yes on 2C,” we wrote a little blog about that. Don’t be too surprised that 76 of the donations that comprised the $387,000 raised by the “Yes” campaign came from developers, the construction industry, and other large companies.

Mayor John Suthers said in 2015 that 2C money would only be used for “road maintenance and repair.” What has happened with that money over the past 4 years since that vote?  Did it go for road maintenance and repair? Well, we’ve had some concerns. Now is the perfect time to examine what’s transpired since that huge influx of 2C cash in to the Colorado Springs City coffers.

In last week’s State of the City address, Mayor Suthers mentioned the renewal of 2C. Here is what he said:

“By the end of the fourth paving season next month we will have paved 875 miles of city roads” 

We typically hear this stated in “lane miles” not simply miles. The difference would be significant if one mile of a 6-lane road is repaired, but counted as 6 miles of road. We will set that difference aside for a moment, as it’s not clear if Suthers simply omitted a word, or if there are two sets of measurements. At no point in his address did he mention curbs, sidewalks, or ADA compliance.

The budget and expenditure detail can be found on the 2C website.

On that website, the “2C Cumulative Statistics (2016-Present)” reported on the site —as of 9/19/19—say that the 2C funds:

  • Resurfaced 714 lane miles of roadway
  • Replaced 584,121 linear feet of curb and gutter
  • Replaced 1,522,964 square feet of sidewalk
  • Installed 3,850 new and retrofitted pedestrian ramps

As of the end of 2018, the City spent $149,638,810 of taxpayer money on 2C projects. Did taxpayers get their money’s worth? Are we still hitting potholes? This is the map of what has been paved so far. This map doesn’t include pothole repair.

We looked into the numbers to see how 2C money has been spent. Since the program inception, only 53% of money collected from 2C went to paving. The “other improvements” mentioned in the 2015 ballot issue received 47% of the money. Of that, 38% went to concrete work. Since it was nicknamed, “the Pothole Tax” in 2015, most voters thought that the money would go to repairing potholes. So what happened to the rest of the money?

Bike Lanes

Just after the November 2015 2C vote —and we don’t believe the timing was coincidental— there was a sudden push to add on-street bike lanes by removing traffic lanes. The City of Colorado Springs advertised for a Senior Bike Planner in late 2015. Who knew that such a job even existed?  The job was filled in March 2016, and in September of that same year, citizens who live and work in the Briargate area awoke to the Research Parkway Bike Lane Fiasco.

Since that first poorly planned project, (which was later reversed, thanks to the organized opposition from residents) there have been several more similar projects that have been met with loud objections.  Notable among them was the narrowing of roads in the Old North End Neighborhood. The 97% of residents who don’t commute by bicycle have been left wondering “is this really how our tax dollars should be spent”?

When it comes to road projects, commuters want potholes fixed. They certainly don’t want traffic lanes taken away, as has been the case. The passage of 2C in 2015 allowed the City to add on-street bike infrastructure. It appears the timing was perfect to take away traffic lanes and convert them to bike lanes as streets were being repaved.

Curbs and Gutters

As a government watchdog group, we have had dozens of citizens contact us at SpringsTaxpayers to ask why there is so much curb and sidewalk construction work, and whether that money should have been spent on filling potholes. They ask, “Why are the City contract workers ripping out perfectly good curbs and sidewalks to put in brand new curbs and sidewalks”? The issue of ripping out good curbs has raised a red flag for us, too.

Also, we do understand that there needs to be a good interface between a new road, and its connected curbs and gutters. But we are curious, were all of the new curbs and gutters installed only in areas where there were also new roads?

We also haven’t yet seen anything that breaks down how much of the paving money was allocated to potholes. We’ll keep digging on that.

We wondered whether some of the curb money was to bring the City in to compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA.) In September, 2018, the City’s Chief Communications Officer Jamie Fabos said, “The City has been performing record numbers of ramp and sidewalk improvements, funded in large part by the 2015 voter-approved 2C sales tax measure.” If part of the 2C money was to be used to fund ADA compliance, shouldn’t the City of Colorado Springs have shared that information in the ballot language? Giving City officials the benefit of the doubt, and assuming they didn’t know about the need for ADA-compliant curbs at the time of the 2015 ballot initiative, we would assume that the new 2019 version of 2C will be more descriptive.

In the coming weeks, we will publish additional blogs, including what the 2019 version of 2C is promising, what the City has spent taxpayer money on that could have gone to road repair, and what voters can expect in their mailboxes from the well-funded proponents of 2C. Stay tuned!

One thought on “Did the “Pothole Tax” do what was promised?

  1. Please understand….the people in government, really don’t care what the common people think. They only pretend to listen on election time. Now, we will see if the populace is “too busy” to pay attention and not just click “yes”. Only 20% of the people in town vote anyway. So, we reap what we sow.

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