After the first elimination round in the race for a limited pool of state transportation dollars, several local projects are still in the running, but the competition is escalating as Silverthorne throws support and money behind one of the contenders.
Local officials put up a number of key projects on Summit County roads — including improvements to the Silverthorne/Interstate 70 interchange, a realignment of Highway 9 through Iron Springs and a $46 million wildlife overpass project north of Silverthorne — for approval through CDOT’s new Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships (RAMP) program, which will distribute a $1.5 billion reserve to speed up roadwork projects across the state.
All of the local proposals submitted have cleared the first hurdle — a determination of eligibility — but nearly $3 billion in applications were submitted for funding through the program, and only a fraction were eliminated in the first round of cuts.
“It will be extremely competitive,” CDOT spokeswoman Amy Ford said of the final decision process. “Each project is going to be looked at on its own merits. It’s really about the greatest amount of projects to make the most impact across the state in alleviating congestion and improving safety as we possibly can.”
To be approved for funding, projects must meet a host of criteria, including that they improve highway safety, tie in with the state transportation system, can be completed in five years, have a high cost-benefit ratio and, perhaps most important, come with a 20 percent funding match from public and private partners.
It’s money that will be tough for many cash-strapped local governments to produce for any of the projects, but the steep $9 million match required for the wildlife overpass project is a particularly tough hurdle. While some Summit County leaders have hesitated to back the Grand County-based proposal over more local applications, the Silverthorne Town Council is supporting the project financially and politically.
The town passed a resolution contributing $70,000 over two years to the match.
“We see this as a very necessary project for the region, and that’s why we had unanimous town council support to pledge funds,” Silverthorne Councilman Bruce Butler stated in a news release. “We always try to be good neighbors, and this is one of those cases where we can be a good neighbor and help to prevent more of the tragic fatalities we’ve seen on this stretch of road.”
The proposal, which would affect a 10-mile stretch of rural Hwy. 9, aims to resolve an ongoing problem with wildlife-related accidents north of Silverthorne with roadside fencing and a series of underpasses and overpasses that will allow animals to safely cross the highway and access a critical water source. The proposal also calls for the road to be expanded with wider shoulders and room for bicycle lanes.
A citizens group backing the wildlife overpass proposal has asked most of the governments in Summit County to throw their weight and some money behind the application.
While local entities are required to come up with some of the money for their RAMP proposals, local leaders do not have to support or prioritize projects in their jurisdiction. But with applications from all over Colorado vying for a onetime shot at the funding, some elected officials in Summit are feeling pressure to do so.
The process may pit local road projects against the more-expensive Hwy. 9 wildlife overpass proposal.
“There is a tension there with us pushing for our several projects,” Breckenridge Mayor John Warner said at a recent town council meeting. “We don’t want to stub our toes on this by pushing for one project and seeing some of our projects not get funded. We’re playing a little bit of a balancing act.”
The expansion of the roundabout at the I-70 203 exit in Frisco, the last segment of an ongoing expansion of Hwy. 9 between Breckenridge and Frisco and a redesign of the Silverthorne interchange are among the projects in Summit County that local officials hope to fund through RAMP.
A $25 million fire-suppression system at the Eisenhower Tunnel, intended to improve the safety of the facility, and the implementation of a hard-shoulder lane proposal to increase traffic capacity on I-70 during peak periods are also up for RAMP dollars, although those projects fall under a different category and aren’t in direct competition with local applications.
Ford said this round of applications may not be the last opportunity for local governments to get highway projects funded. CDOT is slated to make a final decision on RAMP funding by September.
“There is a tension there with us pushing for our several projects. We don’t want to stub our toes on this by pushing for one project and seeing some of our projects not get funded. We’re playing a little bit of a balancing act.”