With budgets set for the upcoming fiscal year, the Colorado Department of Transportation has several large projects slated for Summit County. But with tight funding and flat revenues, two State Highway 9 projects were only approved with the aid of local government matches.
Construction on the first of the two projects — an 11-mile stretch of Highway 9 north of Silverthorne — will wrap up in mid-November at about 50-percent completion. The $52 million project — which features two wildlife overpasses, five underpasses, fencing and a roadway realignment — is set to be finished by fall of 2016.
Next spring, construction is slated for a re-alignment to Highway 9 that would straighten the main artery between Frisco and Breckenridge. Both projects are funded through CDOT’s RAMP (Rapid Acceleration of Maintenance Partnerships) program, meaning that they require a local match and proof of a safety need to be selected for funding.
At first, with a $1-million cost increase this spring, it appeared this Iron Springs project was off the books. But, after Vail Resorts and the town of Breckenridge stepped up to add to grants pledged by Frisco and Summit County, CDOT was able to fast-track the $22 million project.
“We knew if it wasn’t a RAMP project, there was no way we could envision it being funded in the future,” Summit County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said. “We made a point of thanking all the partners because if Vail Resorts and Breckenridge didn’t step up and if we didn’t have this great partnership with town of Frisco, this project would have been dropped.”
Construction is slated for 2016 and 2017, but traffic impacts should be minimal as most of the construction will take place off the roadway.
The new alignment would move the highway west, bringing it away from the reservoir and removing a tight curve known as “Leslie’s Curve” that has been the site of many accidents. In addition, the existing bike path will be moved to the side of the reservoir.
“It’s going to be such a beautiful recreational and environmental enhancement,” Stiegelmeier added.
In addition, CDOT will look at continuing a $4.2 million bridge repair project from Eagle County through Summit. The department will use the funds to repair bridge joints — a critical safety improvement.
CDOT will also team up with Breckenridge to add a roundabout at the intersection of Park Avenue and 4 O’Clock Road. The right lane of eastbound Interstate 70 between Officers Gulch and East Frisco will also be resurfaced next year.
While CDOT also has several “wish list” projects for the county, no funding is currently allocated for some of these plans. All three of the projects are listed under Senate Bill 228, which states that a five-year block of transfers is made from the General Fund to the Highway Users Tax Fund (HUTF), the Capital Construction Fund and the General Fund statutory reserve when personal income growth is five percent or greater.
“These are projects that have risen to the top in terms of the most important needs in the area,” CDOT Region One project manager Grant Anderson said. “They are candidate projects if our funding gets more defined.”
One long-discussed project for the Summit County area is work to the I-70 West/Silverthorne interchange to create a diverging diamond interchange to improve safety on the entry/exit ramps. Also on the list are improvements to Exit 203 in Frisco, including a bridge expansion and the addition of an eastbound auxiliary lane from Frisco to Silverthorne.
With tight funding — due to an expanding Colorado population and a flat gas tax that has stayed at 22 cents per gallon since 1991 — CDOT has little space for new projects. With a 2016 budget of $1.38 billion, a slight increase from last year’s $1.12 billion budget, maintenance dominates the state’s transportation budget.
In addition, the federal gas tax, which makes up nearly half of CDOT’s budget, has stagnated at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993.
“There’s nothing we can do about it unless we choose to tax ourselves more or get Congress to allocate more money,” Stiegelmeier said. “General polling has shown people don’t want a tax, but they want better roads.”
She compared Colorado’s funding to Utah, which has similar tourism infrastructure and challenges in snow-laden mountain roads. But while Colorado’s transportation budget is about half federal funding, she said, Utah’s is 75 percent state-funded.
“It is really frustrating because of all the things you’d think there would be 100-percent agreement on is that everyone needs to pay for more infrastructure in general,” Stiegelmeier said. “There’s nothing partisan about it, but it does cost money.”
Discussions at the federal level, meanwhile, have been postponed time and time again as lawmakers struggle to reach a solution. Transportation funding discussions were postponed until the end of October, with several short-term extensions affecting larger projects, as state governments hesitate to take on longer-term projects without the guarantee of current funding levels.
“That’s the conundrum — the ridiculous state of Congress where they’re operating on these ridiculous continuous resolutions,” Stiegelmeier said. “The expectation is that (funding) will be about the same, but nobody has a clue.”