Do local governments have to pay to play with CDOT?
Ryan Summerlin July 16, 2012
When Summit County lost out on Colorado Department of Transportation funding for the widening project on Highway 9 – after Douglass County offered to pitch in money to have the dollars directed to a project there – local officials thought it was an isolated incident.
But reports are reaching Summit County this may be CDOT’s new approach.
CDOT may expect local municipalities to pay up 10 percent of the cost of a project to get state funding for the work, according to some local officials.
“What I heard is that it’s not their official policy, but that’s likely to be the lay of the land,” Breckenridge Mayor John Warner said, noting that the issue was discussed at a recent meeting of local mayors, managers and commissioners. “It’s an unfortunate policy for rural Colorado because most communities don’t have that 10 percent, whereas the Front Range does have that kind of money.”
CDOT officials say there is no requirement for local municipalities to contribute to get projects done on state roads and highways, but, in tight budget times, extra funding doesn’t hurt.
“If a community is seeking to do an infrastructure improvement, if a community is willing to provide some of the funding, that generally expedites that process,” CDOT spokesman Bob Wilson said. “Money always helps.”
But for rural counties like Summit, that money can be a big ask for projects that need to be implemented.
For Warner and County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier, the completion of the widening project on Highway 9 into Breckenridge comes to mind.
The most pressing remaining projects, including four-laning the road between Tiger Road and the Agape church and installing a roundabout at Fairview Boulevard, have a combined price tag of almost $10 million. A 10 percent contribution from local governments would be nearly $1 million.
“I do the arithmetic and realize that the town and community have a pretty big nut to crack if we want to complete our highway project,” Warner said.
A 10 percent pay-up could be a particularly big problem for Summit County Government, which is hurting from falling property and sales tax revenues.
“The biggest concern we have is that this puts us at a huge disadvantage,” Stiegelmeier said. “As a rural county there is no way we can come up with the money that urban counties can.”
CDOT officials have been up front, for the last several years, about the fact that funds are low.
The transportation department’s budget has dropped half a billion dollars in recent years, making it difficult for CDOT to cover the cost of maintaining the state’s existing infrastructure, let alone fund new projects, director Don Hunt told the Summit Daily last year.
State Rep. Millie Hamner (D-Dillon) said while the financial difficulties are understandable, a policy asking local municipalities to pay into new projects is not.
“If that’s the way it is and it puts some of our rural projects on the back burner, that is really not OK,” Hamner said. “I totally understand why they’re doing it … but I certainly can’t get behind a policy that penalizes smaller counties or West Slope communities.”
Hamner sits on a transportation legislation review committee, which will meet with CDOT next week. She said she plans to bring the issue up with transportation officials.