A drawn-out effort to connect U.S. Highway 550 with the Bridge to Nowhere in Durango is gaining new traction with a complicated funding scheme that involves millions of federal, state and local dollars.
Mike McVaugh of the Colorado Department of Transportation pitched the funding plan to the Durango City Council and La Plata County commissioners Thursday, asking for support and local funding for the project.
The alignment would eliminate the need for the steep and dangerous Farmington Hill and would improve the flow of traffic, said McVaugh, who is regional transportation director for CDOT.
“It helps eliminate a lot of congestion,” he said.
He presented several scenarios for the project and the funding puzzle.
The preferred option would require $99.6 million to realign the highway and widen U.S. Highway 550 to four lanes from County Road 302 to U.S. Highway 160. The project would be 4.1 miles long, according to McVaugh’s presentation.
The least expensive option would require $75 million, and it would build a three-lane realignment of U.S. Highway 550 that would be 1.7 miles long.
A third option would build a four-lane realignment and would include earthwork to widen Highway 550 to County Road 302 and would cost $87.2 million.
Completing one of the two more expensive projects could save millions on earthwork required for expanding the highway later, McVaugh said. The realignment will require CDOT to move 1.5 million cubic yards of earth, some of which would be reused, he said. That’s about 80,000 big-belly dump truck loads of dirt.
The project is likely to receive $12.3 million from a federal FASTLANE grant. Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Cory Gardner. R-Colo., announced the grant in August, but McVaugh is waiting for final confirmation.
“Within 10 days we’ll know,” he told the boards.
The grant will help pay for automatic liquid anti-icing systems in addition to more traditional costs, he said.
The Colorado Transportation Commission may also set aside between $32.7 million and $57.3 million for the realignment from Senate Bill 267, which will generate $1.88 billion for CDOT projects over four years.
Region 5 Transportation Commissioner Sidny Zink said she feels confident the project will receive funding. The funding request was included in a Transportation Commission workshop on Wednesday.
“It was very well received as part of a bigger picture,” she said.
The project was presented as the completion of a larger safety improvement project that was started when the Grandview Interchange was built, she said. The $47 million interchange, which includes the so called Bridge to Nowhere, opened in 2011 and includes a network of four bridges, a roundabout and large retaining walls. Without a Highway 550 connection, the interchange has received minimal use. CDOT said the interchange was built with future needs in mind.
Additional funding for the project, about $19 million, could be reallocated from the funding previously set aside to improve U.S. Highway 160 between Durango and Bayfield, said Lisa Schwantes, CDOT spokeswoman.
CDOT would retain $3 million for improvements between Durango and Bayfield, she said.
Another $10 million to support the project could come from the state’s FASTER funding, put into place by the Funding Advancements for Surface Transportation and Economic Recovery Act of 2009.
McVaugh asked the city and the county to consider allocating between $3 million and $6 million for the project.
City councilors seemed willing to allocate $250,000 and apply for a Department of Local Affairs Grant to support the project.
“I am so pleased in 2017 to see there is a real possibility for the completion,” Councilor Sweetie Marbury said.
The county will consider allocating money for the project as well, County Manager Joanne Spina said.
The county has $450,000 set aside to match road and bridge grants and some of that money could be used, she said.
McVaugh also asked the Southern Ute Indian Tribe to waive a required 2 percent tribal employment fee that the agency would normally pay if CDOT would emphasize more tribal employment as part of the project.
Waiving the fee would save about $2 million, he said.
While the local funding is a small percentage of the project cost, it is important, Zink said.
“It just gives it that solid support that makes everybody else feel like this is a project that needs to move forward,” she said.
In addition to improving safety, the project would also bolster the economy, McVaugh said.
For every $1 billion invested in nonresidential construction, it sustains 28,000 jobs, so Durango could expect a similar, scaled-down effect, he said.