Legislation calls for short-term I-70 solutions
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Legislation intended to push short-term solutions for Interstate 70 got a final stamp of approval from the state House of Representatives Wednesday, passing with a 50 to 14 vote on final reading.
Colorado Department of Transportation officials say the bill is a message to the department to put a more concentrated effort into identifying short-term solutions to the problems in the corridor. Recently, I-70 efforts have been focused on developing and approving the so-called preferred alternative, an extensive and expensive long-term plan for the corridor.
“What we’ve been seeing is the message loud and clear from the Capitol that we need to do something now and that we can’t afford to wait,” CDOT spokeswoman Stacey Stegman said. “We’re getting that message. I think we’ve been so focused on a long-term vision that we haven’t spent as much time on the short-term improvements.”
The bill, carried by Summit County’s state Rep. Millie Hamner, would require CDOT to present prioritized recommendations on short-term solutions to congestion on the I-70 mountain corridor to legislators.
“I think we’ve had enough studies,” Hamner said. “The intent behind this bill really is action. It keeps the momentum going even though there aren’t the dollars.”
If passed, the bill would direct CDOT to bring a set of prioritized actions for the corridor that could be taken in the next four years before a joint meeting of the House and Senate transportation committees in December. Hamner said she hopes CDOT’s recommendations will lead to legislation next year that would mandate action on the corridor.
“The most important thing to me is that it really sends the message to the people of our region (and Colorado) that the legislature recognizes the problems, challenges and issues related to I-70 west of Denver,” Hamner said.
Though the bill itself has no financial impact on the transportation department, proposed short-term alternatives for the I-70 corridor do. As the state continues to battle a billion-dollar budget shortfall, funding for projects isn’t readily available, a problem Hamner’s proposed legislation does not directly address.
“We’re trying really hard,” Stegman said. “I-70 is a priority for this department. The struggle is, how do you fund it?”
The bill does require CDOT to deliver a cost estimate on each short-term action presented and identify potential funding sources for each.
Stegman said the Legislature and the governor’s office have the authority to give CDOT direction on projects and to decide how transportation dollars are spent.
The proposed legislation also directs the department to explore “capacity expansion options” and “demand management options” and to work with governments and businesses in the corridor in developing their recommendations.
“We have a commitment to the stakeholders on the corridor that they’re going to be involved in anything we do,” Stegman said. “From that standpoint, I think we’re supportive of the concept of the bill.”
CDOT is also allowed to hold public hearings to receive proposals to improve corridor mobility from interested members of the public under the bill.
Summit County’s Sen. Jeanne Nicholson is sponsoring the measure in the Senate, where it is now headed.
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