The movers and shakers of the Colorado Department of Transportation took a swing through Durango Tuesday to discuss the state of funding and the vision for the southwest corner of the state.
The visit to the Wilson Gulch walking trail in Three Springs was part of CDOT Executive Director Shailen Bhatt’s tour of the five transportation regions in Colorado in recognition of National Infrastructure Week. The tour started in Denver Tuesday morning and ends on the Front Range Wednesday.
During the Durango stop, Bhatt focused on the vision for improvements in CDOT’s Region 5, which includes La Plata County, and specifically talked about the U.S. 550/160 Grandview Interchange, aka “the Bridge to Nowhere.”
The project has been identified by Mike McVaugh, transportation director for Region 5, as the No. 1 priority for Southwest Colorado because of economic impact, and the 35,000 vehicles that travel the corridor daily.
Community partners joined him to discuss the importance of the project and defend it from criticism from community members.
Sidny Zink, transportation commissioner and local accountant, called the delay of the completion of the interchange since it broke ground in 2012 a hiccup in the long-term plan.
“When you’re trying to plan four and 10 and 20 years down, it’s hard to grasp, so don’t ever think this was just a mistake and that somebody messed up. It is part of a much larger story,” Zink said.
Bhatt said he commonly gets calls asking why CDOT hasn’t prioritized projects in anticipation of growth, and the interchange represents the opposite.
“To me, this is actually a good example of planning, and you build the infrastructure so that when the growth comes, it’s not running on two-lane roads,” he said.
But there is no money for the project, which carries a price tag of $100 million.
McVaugh said his office is actively looking for grant opportunities, including Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grants, but the chance of that panning out is small, as there is only $500 million available nationally.
“Timeline? It really comes down to if we are successful in getting the funding,” McVaugh said.
The group also talked about the future of transportation funding in light of a failure by the state Legislature to present a comprehensive solution to voters.
Several efforts were introduced, including House Bill 1242, which called for a combination of existing revenue and a half-a-cent sales tax increase to generate hundreds of millions of dollars annually to transportation infrastructure projects for 20 years. But all fell short of making the ballot.
Some relief did come in the controversial Senate Bill 267, which contained a provision to issue certificates of participation, which were likened to taking out a second mortgage on state-owned buildings, to the tune of $2 billion, $1.88 billion of which is dedicated for transportation.
Bhatt said the results of the legislative session were a disappointment as the SB 267 money won’t come close to covering the nearly $10 billion in priority projects CDOT has identified as needing attention over the next decade.
In addition to the priority list, there are another $10 billion in projects around the state, he said. “I hate to use the term drop in the bucket, but we’re gonna have a lot of disappointed people saying ‘why isn’t my project going?’”
The picture of what the $1.88 billion will buy is complicated because of the breakdown of how the money must be spent, with 10 percent going to transit and 25 percent going to rural areas of the state, defined as counties with a population of fewer than 50,000.
Gov. John Hickenlooper suggested he might call a special session to get another ballot measure before voters in November, and Bhatt said he would throw his support behind anything that will allow CDOT to address Colorado’s roads. “We’d be behind anything that got us more funding: bake sales (or) ballot measures,” Bhatt said.