BRECKENRIDGE — The unexpected appearance of $1.5 billion in state transportation funds sent local governments officials scrabbling for the 20 percent match required to have key local road projects accelerated with the new money.
With little notice from the Colorado Department of Transportation, Silverthorne, Breckenridge and the Summit County government hastily pulled together initial applications for a piece of the $1.5 billion pie that will become available over the next five years. It’s their only shot at the pool of money.
“A lot of people are scrambling to get partnerships together and get projects done,” assistant county manager Thad Noll said at a meeting Tuesday. “Because, it’s like, if you don’t get your Christmas wish list in today then you don’t get any Christmas presents ... for the next five years.”
The funding, a one-time windfall freed up by a change in accounting procedures within CDOT, will be dished out for new construction and maintenance work across the state. In Summit County, securing some of the money could mean the acceleration of key road projects, like the widening and realignment of Highway 9 at Iron Springs or the expansion of the Frisco roundabout at Interstate 70 exit 203, which otherwise might have taken longer to move to the top of the cash-strapped transportation department’s priority list.
But under CDOT’s new pay-to-play policies, local governments, even rural governments with less money, must put up 20 percent of the total cost of the project to be considered for funding. That means the Summit County commissioners will have to pony up $3.5 million for the roughly $17 million Hwy 9 widening through Iron Springs, a project that belongs to the state.
“These are projects that would have been CDOT’s build in the future,” Noll said. “They’re saying, ‘we’ve got this accelerated money, so you throw money at it and we’ll accelerate it.’”
Transportation officials say the match is necessary to show the proposals submitted are the top priorities for local governments and to ensure as many projects as possible are funded across the state with the money available.
“There are more projects than there is money,” CDOT spokeswoman Amy Ford said. “We want to make sure we use our resources as best we can throughout the state.”
The county will try to put together the required match through land donations, the cost of future maintenance work, other line items and cash.
Breckenridge will also be after some of the money in the first round of applications to fund a new roundabout on Park Avenue. Silverthorne will be applying for backing to improve the on-ramp at I-70, which is currently steep and short enough to cause problems for drivers when conditions are slick or snowpacked.
But at some point in the process, the county as a whole will have to prioritize the projects.
CDOT is most likely to fund the work that hits a number of criteria, including safety improvements, congestion mitigation, environmental and economic benefit and connectivity. Transportation officials will also take into account whether the project involves the completion of work that is already under way — like the Hwy. 9 widening — and whether local governments offer up more than the required 20 percent of the project cost.
“If they’re going above that targeted minimum, it’s certainly something we’re gong to take into consideration.”
Local officials plan to ask CDOT to consider reserving some of the funding and accepting applications again in the next year or two because the initial bid for dollars was on such a fast timeline.
“All this happened very quickly,” Frisco public works director Tim Mack said. “I’d like to see another crack at it in a year or so.”