Vail Valley helps cash-strapped state
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” In the case of Eagle County roads, putting your money where your mouth is can really make things happen.
In several cases, Eagle County, towns and other municipalities have pitched in money toward road projects that may have been delayed for years if it had been completely up to the cash-strapped Colorado Department of Transportation.
In April, state transportation officials told local governments that there was “bad news on the funding front” and that cuts in the state transportation budget meant that there would be limited funds for big construction projects in the next few years.
Money for road projects comes from several different funds. Among them are regional priority programs, which are local projects such as building a new roundabout or improving an intersection. In past years, each transportation region had received $25 million through the fund.
Now the fund has been reduced to $93 million through 2035, or roughly $250,000 per region each year, said Joe Elsen, a transportation program engineer.
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“That’s how much it used to cost for an intersection,” he said.
For Eagle County, getting projects designed or contributing money means there is a better chance that the project will be first in line for the limited funds.
A case in point is the Edwards Interstate 70 interchange, where construction will begin on four new roundabouts next year.
County engineering studies showed the interchange could use some help, and residents complained about the long waits at the exit’s stoplights, but nothing happened until Eagle County and Edwards metro districts funded the design of the project.
“We’re really thankful that Eagle County stepped up to the plate and funded the design. Now we think it’s positioned (to receive funding),” said Elsen.
Another example is the 2-foot shoulder that will be built on 14 miles of U.S. Highway 6 starting later this year from Squaw Creek Road in Edwards to the Eagle River bridge near Eagle.
The entire project will cost almost $6 million. The county is contributing about $2.5 million. The state will pay for the rest and pave the entire road.
County officials said they saw the project as necessary, especially because the stretch of road is heavily used by cyclists but has no shoulder.
“It’s the county stepping up and helping the state with infrastructure,” said County Manager Bruce Baumgartner.
Elsen said that the county’s help probably accelerated the project a few years.
Other yet-to-be-funded projects include the county and the town of Eagle funding a study for Eby Creek Road improvements in Eagle, and the county and the town of Gypsum funding some of the design costs for an interchange at the airport.
“Because those studies and designs are done, the likelihood of those projects getting funded is ever greater,” County Commissioner Peter Runyon said.
State Rep. Christine Scanlan said that legislators recognize the state’s “level of desperation,” and the focus of the next legislative session will be infrastructure and maintenance needs.
But in the meantime, it still helps to pool local funds when it comes to road work.
“When there’s collaboration, and when people are willing to put money in, it proves the need, and it’s easier for CDOT to go to their leadership and ask for the funding,” said Tom Johnson, the county’s facilities manager.
In past years, the county has also helped the state sweep roads in the spring when they became dangerous for cyclists, he said.
Two big challenges for the state in getting projects started are getting environmental clearance and having the full design of the project done. If those things are done, the project is already well on its way, Elsen said.
“It’s nice to have the project sitting on the shelf and ready to go,” he said.
Other local governments have done similar partnerships. In the Roaring Fork Valley, the local transportation authority run by Aspen, Snowmass and Pitkin County, paid for the design and contributed $900,000 in building costs for the Maroon Creek Bridge on U.S. Highway 82.
Pitkin County also helped fund a roundabout near Aspen and an intersection improvement in the upper Roaring Fork Valley, Elsen said.
In Rifle, the city helped pay for two of three roundabouts.
Elsen called that kind of partnership “forward thinking” on the part of local governments. “If locals can get a flame kindled and pump some money into (a project), it shows commitment,” Elsen said.
Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or email@example.com.