Eagle, Gypsum ponder offer to take over US Highway 6 control
EAGLE — Devolution isn’t a term that pops up too often in common vernacular. But thanks to a recent funding decision by the Colorado Transportation Commission, residents of Eagle and Gypsum may soon become quite familiar with the term.
The dictionary definition of devolution is “the transfer or delegation of power to a lower level, especially by central government to local or regional administration.” That is exactly what the Colorado Department of Transportation would do with the ownership of U.S. Highway 6 in the communities of Eagle and Gypsum if the details can be worked out on a $12.1 million project the transportation commission approved in June.
This year marked the third time that the towns banded together to present a devolution proposal to CDOT for roughly seven miles of U.S. Highway 6 starting at the roundabout on Eby Creek Road and extending west to the Gypsum roundabout.
“Under this plan, that stretch of highway is no longer a part of the state highway system,” said Tom Gosiorowski, Eagle town engineer.
“This is really a good partnership between the towns,” said Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll of the devolution proposal. “Both communities just want to control our destinies with highway access.”
The notion that development along the U.S. Highway 6 corridor in both Eagle and Gypsum would be subject to local versus state control is the biggest pro cited by both towns in support of the plan. Gosiorowski noted that, on average, the town has to add around 22 percent to the overall cost of a project on state highway because of CDOT’s construction engineering fees.
“We, as a town, can do if for less than half of that fee,” he said.
Shroll agreed, noting that the state’s processes can be cumbersome and expensive.
“I think it (devolution) allows both of our towns to respond to economic development opportunities more quickly,” he said.
Additionally, Shroll noted that the Colorado Legislature has been shifting more and more state highway maintenance responsibilities to local governments — items such as culverts, drainage and streetlights. He believes that it makes sense to accept a devolution plan now, while the state is offering funding.
The dollar amount of $12.1 million has been approved because CDOT’s formula indicates that is the amount it would spend on U.S. Highway 6 maintenance during the next 20 years. The money would be shared between the towns and split using a formula that calculates the amount of square feet of U.S. Highway 6 pavement in each community. That formula allows for not only the main highway lanes, but also for acceleration and deceleration lanes. Bridges and drainage structures also play into the mix and Gosoirowski noted that CDOT is currently in the process of replacing Eagle’s one large bridge on the corridor.
With all the math considerations, the initial division of the $12.1 million comes out to around $1.6 million to Eagle and $10.5 million to Gypsum. However, the division of funding is just one of the considerations that has to be hashed out before the plan is approved.
The biggest initial drawback to the plan is the idea of commitment. “Forever is a really long time,” said Gosiorowski.
What’s more, he noted that Eagle has had great success in getting state and federal dollars for road projects — witness the recent $17 million that went into the Eby Creek Road roundabouts.
“That’s not a predictor of future success, however,” said Gosiorowski. “The funding money tends to rotate around the state, and we just got our piece in a big way with that $17 million. Also, there is continually less and less money available statewide.”
Both Eagle and Gypsum have large scale plans for U.S. Highway 6, and leaders in both communities figure those projects will have to be funded locally. They note that having jurisdiction over what happens along the U.S. Highway 6 corridor could turn out to be more important, and have a larger fiscal impact, than the actual payment from the state.
While the state transportation commission has approved the devolution money for CDOT’s 2016 budget, Eagle and Gypsum still have to decide if they will take it. Between now and the end of the state’s fiscal year — on June 30, 2016 — the towns must complete a detailed survey and annex sections of the highway that lay in unincorporated Eagle County. Additionally, the towns and the state must negotiate an intergovernmental agreement for the plan. The deal is far from complete, but as Gosiorowski noted, after two previous tries Eagle and Gypsum now have the chance to seriously contemplate taking over U.S. Highway 6 in their communities.
“This is the first time we have had an actual offer to consider,” he said.