County slated to get $23M from budget fix |

County slated to get $23M from budget fix

Tamara Miller
Daily file photoEngineers say they can make Dowd Junction, above, and Vail Pass safer places to drive if Coloradans vote in November to give up some tax refunds for the next five years.

EAGLE COUNTY – Eagle County will receive $23 million in road improvements if Colorado voters agree to give up five years’ worth of tax refunds this November.Transportation officials submitted their list of projects that will be funded if voters approve Referendums C and D this November. Money to begin building new lanes on Vail Pass, as well as some safety improvements to Dowd Junction are on the list. The transportation department also wants to enhance a bridge on state Highway 82 near Basalt. Interstate 70 at Vail Pass and Dowd Junction are two of the three most accident-prone spots in the eastern half of Eagle County, said Fred Morrison, operations manager for the Eagle County Ambulance District. The third area is near Wolcott, he said. “Almost all of these areas are sharp curves with icy areas that don’t get a lot of sun,” Morrison said. Transportation officials plan to use some of the money slated for Eagle County to smooth the curve in the road near Dowd Junction, said Joe Elsen, transportation program engineer for the region. The area in Dowd Junction by the Minturn exit is a particularly accident-prone area, Elsen said.

The department also wants to build additional lanes on Vail Pass so faster-moving cars can more safely pass slower-moving trucks. The money tagged for Vail Pass only is enough to study the environmental impact of adding new lanes in this heavily forested area, with a little remaining to build lanes on the parts of Interstate 70 that are climbing up the pass, Elsen said. More improvements are planned for Vail Pass and Dowd Junction, where the department is considering building two tunnels. But to finishing those projects will cost several hundred millions of dollars each, Elsen said. ==========================================================What is TABOR?The Taxpayers Bill of Rights, or TABOR, is an amendment to the state constitution approved by voters in 1993. It establishes annual spending limits based on the amount of money the state brings in during the previous year. Whenever revenue (taxes) exceeds that limit, the surplus is returned to taxpayers. When the state collects less money than in years past, as it did during the most recent recession, the spending limit for the next year drops. Because of that, state lawmakers have had to cut funding for budget items including roads and higher education. Now that the economy is growing again – along with tax collections – many lawmakers would like to use that surplus to put money back into those and other programs. Because of TABOR’s spending limits, however, the state’s budget still looks like those put together during the most recent recession.=========================================================

==========================================What are Referendums C and D?Referendum C would allow the state to retain TABOR surplus funds for five years, rather than refunding them to taxpayers. That money will be used to pay for higher education and other servicesReferendum D asks voters to allow the state to use that surplus to bond for enough money to pay for a backlog of transportation projects. It is estimated that if both measures are approved, the state would be able to bond for $3.1 billion for statewide road and bridge projects.

============================================================Staff Writer Tamara Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607, or, Colorado

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