Polis bill signing tour nearly derailed by Glenwood Canyon mudslides
Governor got to Eagle County just in time, says new transportation bill will decrease I-70 closure times
Gov. Jared Polis had a busy day of bill signings planned for Sunday, from Silverthorne to Basalt to Aspen to Eagle.
The tour required the use of the I-70 into Glenwood Canyon, and in traveling through the canyon, Polis said he was able to observe the large wall of mud which had been cleared from Saturday’s mudslide which closed the interstate.
Less than an hour after his final trip through the canyon on Sunday, mudslides had closed I-70 again, this time for a prolonged period of time.
Polis, on Sunday, said seeing the wall of debris cleared by CDOT after the first mudslide had him thinking about transportation corridors in Colorado, and all the various ways they can be impacted by Mother Nature. In 2020, the Grizzly Creek Fire closed Glenwood Canyon for nearly two weeks. In 2019, giant boulders tumbled onto the freeway, causing closures. The list goes on.
Every closure of I-70 has some sort of economic ripple throughout the country, but the prolonged closures are the ones that sting the worst for those reliant on the corridor, Polis said. A recently signed transportation bill, SB21-260, could ease some of the tension, he said.
“Our ability to reopen quickly is largely a function of our ability to fund and move quickly,” Polis told the Vail Daily from Eagle on Sunday. “With the new transportation bill, we’re not only doing major improvements like the lane expansion at Floyd Hill, which is obviously critical for access to the mountain area, but we’re also increasing our ability to reopen quickly after natural events like rockfalls and mudslides.”
‘Once in a generation’
Democrats called SB21-260 a “once in a generation” transportation proposal, and pulled no punches in describing why it was needed.
“Colorado has fallen behind when it comes to transportation investment and efficiency – costing our residents endless amounts of money and time,” said State Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg of Boulder. “Even states like Mississippi and Utah have far outpaced us, making this plan even more urgent.”
Rep. Matt Gray, of Broomfield, said “it’s time to get Colorado moving” and hailed SB21-260 as a bill which can do just that.
“Thanks to the good faith efforts of stakeholders on all sides of the issue, we were able to do what many before us had fallen short of,” Gray said. “We found a path forward that will not only help us deal with the transportation needs of today, but will set up a sustainable funding mechanism to help our state deal with the transportation challenges of tomorrow.”
The transportation bill provides $5.365 billion in funding for the state’s transportation system. The money will be used for repairs and improvements, but also for response to natural incidents which close the roadway, Polis said. The funding will come from a mix of state, federal, and fee revenue. New fees will begin in 2022-23 and will cost the average driver about $28, and will be spread across all users of the system. But before those new fees take effect, Polis said, a reduction will occur.
“We’ll reduce vehicle registration fees by $11 next year,” Polis said.
Polis had 30 days to sign the more than 300 bills passed this legislative session, and his schedule in getting it done was robust. Last week, the governor visited Eagle County to sign a bill that extends alcohol beverage takeout, selecting an appropriate location as there was to-go wine for sale behind him at the Northside Kitchen in Avon.
Avon legislator Dylan Roberts joined Polis for that bill signing, along with several stops on the Sunday tour. He said it might have been a much different evening for the group if they had been just one hour behind schedule.
Roberts also observed the large wall of mud in Glenwood Canyon, and said transportation and climate issues in Colorado immediately jumped to mind upon doing so.
“Evidently, we made it between mudslides,” Roberts said. “I think we got lucky.”