CDOT prioritizes road projects with limited funds
Road improvements in Grand County will be taking a back seat, at least for now, as the Colorado Department of Transportation struggles to acquire funding for major projects elsewhere.
The Northwest Transportation Region, which includes Grand, Jackson, Moffat, Rio Blanco and Routt counties, is currently developing a regional transportation plan, which includes a number of road improvement projects.
However, Gary Bumgarner, chair of CDOT’s regional planning commission, said the number and cost of projects far outweighs the $4 or $5 million that the entire region is expected to get from CDOT.
“Right now, the one thing we are doing is we’re trying to focus our limited dollars in the areas that give us the most cost benefit,” said David Eller, CDOT’s regional transportation director. “So sometimes, when it comes to the surface treatment dollars, Interstate 70 may see more funding than Highway 40. Some of our rural roads do start to fall behind a little bit, and we’re seeing some of that.”
Projects in Grand County, which include adding shoulders to U.S. 40 east of Kremmling, will lose priority to higher volume areas like those near Steamboat Springs.
Projects tend to take priority based on a number of factors, including how much engineering for the project has been completed. Bumgarner said none had been completed for improvements on U.S. 40 in Grand County, and said the county would only be able to “maintain what we have” in the short-term, but would have to look toward “grassroots” ways of funding new projects in the future.
The Northwest Transportation Region is currently focusing on improving U.S. 40, and state highways 131, 13 and 9.
“Those are still the four priorities that continue to kind of come to the top for that (transportation planning) region,” Eller said.
The Highway 9 has been approved as a Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance Project, which Eller described as an acceleration of funding.
CDOT updates its plan every five years.
Eller said priorities had shifted in the new plan, with surface and shoulder repairs to U.S. 40 taking priority over improvements to state highway 131.
Areas of focus in Grand County include shoulders east of Kremmling and intersection work in Winter Park, Eller said.
However, Bumgarner said that improvements on U.S. 40 in Grand County would most likely not happen in the next few years.
The northwest region hopes to have a final draft of its plan available for a 30-day public comment period in October, with a final plan completed by December.
That plan will be incorporated into a statewide plan to be completed by January and approved by the state transportation commission in April.
CDOT funding struggles
CDOT has blamed flat-lining revenue from the state gas tax and rising costs of construction for its lack of funds.
Paradoxically, as more people move toward hybrids and fuel-efficient vehicles, CDOT’s tax revenue is stagnating, which is inhibiting the completion of projects with rising costs, said David Eller, transportation director for region 3.
“I think any rural road in the state is going to see it get tougher and tougher to keep the road at the levels of service that the customer has seen in the past,” Eller said.
CDOT is currently formulating regional transportation plans for each of its transportation planning regions.
“What do we plan on doing is a darn good question,” Eller said. “It really becomes kind of a political issue that has to be supported by the politicians.”
Eller said proposed plans had included a rise in sales tax, which hadn’t polled well. Other alternatives include a vehicle miles traveled, or VMT, tax, which would charge drivers for the distance they travel in Colorado.
“It’s interesting,” Eller said. “There’s not a lot of support for that either.”
CDOT has yet to arrive at any conclusion, he said.
Hank Shell can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610.
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