December 11, 2018

Bad News Abounds for Toll Roads

The operator of the Northwest Parkway near Denver lost $22.6 million last year according to Brisa Full Year 2009 Results, suffering a 12.6% decline in average daily traffic. Earlier this year, yet another major U.S. toll road went belly up. The privately-financed but publicly-owned toll highway in South Carolina known as the Southern Connector toll highway defaulted on its bonds. And just last week San Diego’s South Bay Expressway filed for bankruptcy. According to TollRoadsNews.com, “Traffic and revenue forecasts underlying the financing plan for the SBE projected 60k vehicles/day in 2009 whereas traffic was in fact 23k/day, or 38% of forecast level. Toll revenue in 2008 was $22m or 70% of the forecast $31m. In 2009 toll revenue was $21m, about half of the $42m forecast.”

Impact of the Recovery Act on Colorado

The Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute recently published a fact sheet describing the impacts of the federal stimulus package on Colorado. Most of the information comes from a February report published by Governor Ritter’s Economic Recovery Team.

Some highlights:

  • At least 33,000 jobs retained or created.
  • Nearly four million Coloradans received direct financial assistance of some kind.
  • The Medicaid program received close to $900 million.
  • Public schools in Colorado received more than $325 million.
  • Colleges and universities received just shy of a billion dollars in support.

If you want to see more detail, you can download and read the Recovery Act Fact Sheet.

Immediate Effects of the New Federal Health Care Legislation

Thankfully the hoopla and controversy about the new health care legislation is mostly over, which means it’ll be easier to figure more precisely what it will actually do. Here’s a nice list distributed by our State Senator Moe Keller of some immediate effects.

SMALL BUSINESS TAX CREDITS

Offers tax credits to small businesses to make employee coverage more affordable. Tax credits of up to 35 percent of premiums will be immediately available to firms that choose to offer coverage. Effective beginning for calendar year 2010. (Beginning in 2014, the small business tax credits will cover 50 percent of premiums.)



BEGINS TO CLOSE THE MEDICARE PART D DOUGHNUT HOLE

Provides a $250 rebate to Medicare beneficiaries who hit the doughnut hole in 2010. Effective for calendar year 2010. (Beginning in 2011, institutes a 50% discount on brand!name drugs in the doughnut hole; also completely closes the doughnut hole by 2020.)



FREE PREVENTIVE CARE UNDER MEDICARE

Eliminates co-payments for preventive services and exempts preventive services from deductibles under the Medicare program. Effective beginning January 1, 2011.



HELP FOR EARLY RETIREES
Creates a temporary re-insurance program (until the Exchanges are available) to help offset the costs of expensive premiums for employers and retirees for health benefits for retirees age 55!64. Effective 90 days after enactment.



ENDS RESCISSIONS

Bans insurance companies from dropping people from coverage when they get sick. Effective 6 months after enactment.



NO DISCRIMINATION AGAINST CHILDREN WITH PREEXISTING CONDITIONS

Prohibits new health plans in all markets plus grandfathered group health plans from denying coverage to children with preexisting conditions. Effective 6 months after enactment. (Beginning in 2014, this prohibition would apply to all persons.)



BANS LIFETIME LIMITS ON COVERAGE
Prohibits health insurance companies from placing lifetime caps on coverage. Effective 6 months after enactment.



BANS RESTRICTIVE ANNUAL LIMITS ON COVERAGE
Tightly restricts the use of annual limits to ensure access to needed care in all new plans and grandfathered group health plans. These tight restrictions will be defined by HHS. Effective 6 months after enactment. (Beginning in 2014, the use of any annual limits would be prohibited for all new plans and grandfathered group health plans.)



FREE PREVENTIVE CARE UNDER NEW PRIVATE PLANS
Requires new private plans to cover preventive services with no co!payments and with preventive services being exempt from deductibles. Effective 6 months after enactment.

Education Funding Initiative Launched

A new coalition calling itself Great Futures Colorado announced last week a new ballot initiative that would alter the state constitution in order to allow the legislature to raise taxes without an election for funding preschool, K-12, and higher education. The constitution right now requires an election for any tax increase regardless of the size or purpose. The first step will be persuading the legislature to refer the measure to the November 2010 ballot. If they pull that off, then they’ll need to persuade the voters to approve it.

The state constitution is pretty dysfunctional when it comes to budget and fiscal policy, with a convoluted and nonsensical mix of growing spending obligations, sharp spending limitations, and some other elements that produce bizarre results ((like the Gallagher amendment, which pushes a growing and very large proportion of the property tax load onto commercial properties). And because all of these elements are in the constitution, they can’t be altered without the voters themselves amending the constitution. I’d rather that we tackle the mess all at once, since piecemeal efforts may result in new unintended consequences, but I also understand that sometimes the political reality requires an incremental approach. I’m looking forward to the conversation as everyone dives into the details of the proposal.

Volunteer Opportunity: National Veterans Wheelchair Games July 4-9

This July, Denver plays host to the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, providing Golden residents with a chance to cheer on some incredible athletes or even volunteer to help out with the event. More than 500 athletes – all military veterans with spinal cord injuries, neurological injuries, and amputees – will compete in an incredible range of events, including table tennis, weight lifting, basketball, hand cycling, and soccer. Locations vary by event, including the Colorado Convention Center, Apex Meyers Swimming Pool, and the Cherry Creek Family Shooting Center. For more information you can contact Amanda Eckman, the Local Organizing Chair (Amanda.eckman@va.gov 720-201-0455), or visit the Wheelchair Games web site.

Some cool facts about the National Veterans Wheelchair Games:

  • The first national Games were held in 1981, involving 74 veterans from 14 states. In 2009, the games played host to 513 athletes from 45 states, Puerto Rico, and Great Britain.
  • In 1987, 12 British veterans were invited to participate, and Great Britain has fielded a team every year since.
  • The Games are sponsored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Paralyzed Veterans of America.
  • It’s the largest annual wheelchair sports event in the world.

Denver’s Veterans Hospital

I spent part of the morning visiting with patients and residents at Denver’s VA hospital. To a one, the folks I met were friendly, interesting, and proud to have served. Most of the folks I met today served in Vietnam or Korea (and one gentleman who served in both), but we met a few WWII veterans as well. They won’t be with us too much longer – I’m told that 1,500 WWII veterans are passing away daily now – so it’s all the more important to acknowledge their service and listen to their stories.

Kudos also go to the VA Hospital staff, who work very hard to give our veterans the level of care they deserve. The new VA hospital is scheduled to open in 2013, which should make it easier to provide high quality care for our aging veterans and for the many, many young veterans now returning from tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.

Denver's Veterans Hospital

I spent part of the morning visiting with patients and residents at Denver’s VA hospital. To a one, the folks I met were friendly, interesting, and proud to have served. Most of the folks I met today served in Vietnam or Korea (and one gentleman who served in both), but we met a few WWII veterans as well. They won’t be with us too much longer – I’m told that 1,500 WWII veterans are passing away daily now – so it’s all the more important to acknowledge their service and listen to their stories.

Kudos also go to the VA Hospital staff, who work very hard to give our veterans the level of care they deserve. The new VA hospital is scheduled to open in 2013, which should make it easier to provide high quality care for our aging veterans and for the many, many young veterans now returning from tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.

Colorado Health Resources

A huge thanks to Senator Moe Keller, who represents Golden in the State Legislature, for compiling this list of resources:

With more than 800,000 uninsured Coloradans, chances are high that someone you know and care about may be struggling for access to affordable healthcare. Here are some healthcare resources for the uninsured and underinsured. Check out these options for yourself, or pass them onto someone in need. Here’s to your happiness, health, and prosperity.

Prescription Assistance

Colorado PEAK is a self-service website that allows individuals to see if they may be eligible for food assistance, Colorado Works, Medicaid, or the Child Health Plan.  Prospective clients can anonymously answer some basic questions to find out if they may be eligible.

Child Health Plan Plus (CHP+) keeps Colorado kids healthy by offering low-cost health insurance for Colorado’s uninsured children and pregnant women who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but cannot afford private health insurance.

Colorado Medicaid is public health insurance for families, children, pregnant women, persons with disabilities, and the elderly for Colorado residents.

Colorado Indigent Care Program can help pay your medical expenses if you make less than 250% of the federal poverty level and are ineligible for Medicaid.  Enroll at your local hospital or clinic.

Senior Health Care Assistance helps people enrolled in Medicare with questions about health insurance.

Denver Health offers access to high quality healthcare, whether for prevention, acute and chronic diseases, or emergency care regardless of ability to pay.

Metro Community Provider Network provides excellent health-related services focusing on the underserved.

Rocky Mountain Youth Clinics is dedicated to providing accessible, affordable, high-quality healthcare to children and adolescents, regardless of insurance status or the family’s ability to pay.

9 Health Fair is Colorado’s largest volunteer-driven, non-profit health fair program and serves 100,000 people at 170 locations across the state each year. Go to a 9Health Fair near you this spring.

High Tech Highway Devices

Kevin Flynn’s Inside Lane (a terrific news blog focused on transportation issues throughout Colorado) had a great post last month with photographs and explanations of all the high tech devices you sometimes see on highways and at intersections.

DRCOG Approves “Jefferson Parkway” Toll Highway Proposal

The DRCOG board voted 35-17 last week to add the Jefferson Parkway to the regional transportation plan.  The Jefferson Parkway is the plan promoted by Jefferson County, Arvada, and Broomfield to build a new toll road between Highways 128 and 93.  Their plan remains ill conceived, dumping nearly 40% additional traffic on Highway 93, with no improvements, making the highway even more congested and more dangerous than it already is.  Their plan depends on the taxpayers picking up the tab for hundreds of millions of dollars of additional projects just to make the toll revenues work.  And if they are able to secure financing for the project, it will almost certainly come with some steep taxpayer concessions, including congestion guarantees and probably a promise to backstop any revenue shortfalls with taxpayer dollars.  A free road this isn’t.

Building this proposed beltway section really doesn’t make sense.  It’s incredibly expensive, it doesn’t fix the actual transportation problems (and creates new ones), and it will lead to substantially more intensive development along the Highway 93 corridor and wrapping around the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge.   And the studies have all been very, very clear: if you want to fix transportation across the Northwest Quadrant, improve the existing highways and major roads.

But there is an instinct shared by many across the region that Denver needs a beltway despite the evidence.  People really, really want to close loops.  And the facts haven’t been that important in this conversation.  “Every great city has a beltway” is one common refrain, which is both inaccurate and ignores that the most congested cities tend to have beltways . . . beltways induce sprawl and they induce traffic, predictably resulting in greater congestion instead of less.

There is some good news.  There is growing opposition to the Jefferson Parkway proposal because it not only fails to fix the problems but actually makes them much worse.  Seventeen communities voted against the Jefferson Parkway, which is roughly triple the number that voted against the last beltway-related issue at DRCOG.  Public opinion was overwhelmingly against the proposal (twice as many people opposed as supported).  Also, for the first time, we have built a proactive collaboration with other neighbors to solve the existing problems on Highway 93 and U.S. 6 from C-470 to Boulder.

In early February, the City Council will start discussing next steps, but Golden’s position is very clear.  Because of the narrowness of the Golden Valley, nearly every home in Golden is very impacted by what happens on the 6/93 Corridor within the city limits.  We remain open to a reasonable and fair solution that protects our community, but we will continue working very hard to protect against the impacts of the current proposed toll road project.

If you want to read more, here are a couple of newspapers from last week: