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Vail Daily letter: Wrong interchange

Vail Daily
Vail, CO Colorado

The residents of Eagle County should be aware of where their tax money is going and how local decisions may affect them. Some federal stimulus funds are being provided through a U.S. Department of Transportation program called Transportation Investment Generating Eco-nomic Recovery, or TIGER. A chunk of $1.5 billion will be dis-tributed nationwide.

For several years, Eagle Coun-ty has been working on getting funding through the Colorado Department of Transportation and available federal funds for an airport interchange. It is shovel- ready, and they have already applied for a TIGER grant.

The airport interchange also would serve an industrial-com-mercial area south and east of the airport and the gravel operations along the river. It could serve Eagle Ranch people who choose to avoid Eagle’s traffic problems by using the new interchange.

The county commissioners have learned via the grapevine that Eagle Mayor Ed Woodland and Town Manager Willie Pow-ell, at the direction of the major-ity of the Board of Trustees, also have applied for a TIGER grant to pay for an East Eagle inter-change for an as-yet-unap-proved development, Eagle Riv-er Station.

Eagle River Station is being proposed by a Kansas City devel-oper that in the past has agreed that if it gets approval from the town, it will build said interchange.

This town application is in direct competition with the county application and could jeopardize the county’s efforts because of the close proximity of the two interchanges.

The East Eagle interchange is clearly less expensive to build because of the Eagle River and configuration of Interstate 70, but why should stimulus money be used for the benefit of an unapproved private develop-ment when there is statewide public need for improvements to roads and bridges?

If the east interchange is approved by TIGER, and Eagle River Station is denied by the Town Board or by referendum, it could be an interchange to nowhere, certainly not a help to Eagle’s traffic problems or for any other use.

As pointed out by County Commissioner Peter Runyon at a meeting of the Town Board and two county commission-ers, this may be the last chance for funding for the airport interchange.

The regional airport helps to drive tourism and the economy in three or more county areas as well as the town.

The county has been working with county towns through the I-70 Coalition to help iron out some of the problems resulting from the increase in population and I-70 traffic.

County Commissioner Sara Fisher expressed extreme disappointment that the town did not inform the county that they were making application for TIGER money, as the Town Board had previously supported the air-port interchange. She pointed out that this sends a different message.

She asked the town to forgo its application or tell the parties involved that they are stepping back, want the airport interchange to go through and keep the town’s application sec-ondary to the county’s application.

I want locals to know how TIGER money may be used.

My question to you is why our stretched thin tax stimulus dollars should be considered for the benefit of a developer. The TIGER money will be spent, so it is important that it is spent where it will benefit the greatest number of people.

If the developers’ projections are valid, then they can pay for the east interchange and all the town infrastructure promised through tax increment financing.

Why is the town going to bat for the develop-er for the east interchange if it already has a source for funds?

At an Eagle Town Board meeting, I made a statement “that the public perception of peo-ple in the community is that the town must have given some assurances to Eagle River Sta-tion developer Trinity/Red of approval, or Trinity/Red never would have spent $17 mil-lion for the (Lapin) property.”

The statement was met with indignation by board members even though I was speaking for many people who are not willing to say it to their faces.

While the Town Board fiddles with details of the Eagle River Station project and delays a decision, the developer hopes for an end to the recession.

There are plenty of examples of big promis-es and dried-up dollars in the Eagle Valley. Businesses that might want to start up in Eagle won’t touch the charming downtown location because of Eagle River Station’s inside track, an understandable business decision.

Edwards and Gypsum continue to grow and prosper, and Eagle is short of sales tax revenue. Long-range planning has been nonexistent in the town. Instead of focusing on improving U.S. Highway 6 through town to attract people to the core as they come and go to the airport and Costco, they want to ruin the rural land-scape to the east with a Target and affordable housing. Empty, flat land is much easier and cheaper to develop, even if it isn’t where peo-ple can easily get to it.

Look at desert communities in the South-west, now struggling with urban sprawl in a bad economy.

People are not traveling farther than the local grocery store.

I think the application to TIGER by the town supports the public perception of approval of Eagle River Station, and I think the county could be the loser in this battle. Even though the county is currently high on the list for the TIGER grant, there are lobbyists at work to get these funds for themselves.

Let your opinions be known to your repre-sentatives in Congress and to the Colorado Department of Transportation.

This will have an economic effect on a huge area. Everyone is focused on health care right now, and these smaller billions could slip through our fingers into the wrong hands for the wrong reasons.

Suzie Shepard Eagle


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