Local groups and governments are emptying their piggy banks trying to find any available money to contribute to a 10-mile safety-improvement project on Highway 9 in Grand County.
Their cash is crucial to getting the plan approved.
High Country stakeholders have to put up 20 percent of the project’s $46 million bill to qualify for Colorado Department of Transportation funding.
The owner of the Blue Valley Ranch near Kremmling, billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Jones, contributed $4 million to the match last month, leaving a local citizens’ group with $4 million left to raise from the public and local stakeholders before CDOT’s deadline for project applications next month.
“His incentive for doing that was to make that project a possibility,” said Blue Valley Ranch manager Perry Handyside, a member of the Citizens for a Safe Hwy. 9 Committee. “So stakeholders would have the incentive to finish out the rest of the match.”
The project aims to resolve an ongoing problem with wildlife-related accidents on the rural highway north of Silverthorne with roadside fencing and a series of under 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.
The improvements, the result of a collaboration between CDOT and the Division of Parks and Wildlife, are designed to increase safety on one of the more dangerous stretches of road in the region. In the last 20 years, 16 humans and hundreds of animals have been killed in collisions on the segment Hwy. 9 through Grand County.
Friends of the Lower Blue River, a local citizens group, has agreed to pledge $1,000, 20 percent of its total donation reserve for the entire year, to the fundraising effort.
“We feel really strongly that this is an important project,” executive director Marty Richardson said.
Despite budget constraints, the Summit County Commissioners say they plan to scrounge for some cash to chip in as well. The money will likely come out of savings from cutbacks across county departments or a surplus generated by increased sales tax revenue in the first three months of the year, officials said.
“We’re going to look at our budget and see where we can find some money to contribute,” Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said. “It’s an essential project, not only for the wildlife overpasses that are really fantastic, and the bicycling, which is a big economic benefit, but also because of the critical safety issues. We’ve had way too many fatalities to be acceptable.”
If the Hwy. 9 citizens’ committee can come up with the $9 million match, the project will be considered for funding through CDOT’s Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships (RAMP) program, created to expedite key highway proposals across the state using a onetime $1.5 billion reserve. Committee leaders see the program as potentially their only shot at getting the Hwy. 9 project funded.
Handyside speculates that failure to come up with the 20 percent match, even in rural counties where money is tight, will send a message to transportation officials that the project is not a top priority for local stakeholders and state funding that does become available for new road projects in the future will be directed to roadwork in more populated areas.
“It’s almost now or never, essentially,” he told the Summit Board of County Commissioners in an open meeting Tuesday. “(It) means to me a new priority system. So where’s the money going to go? It’s going to go to the urban metro corridors where they have cars and people and investors and tax dollars that we don’t have. This is our one chance to get this done.”
The citizens’ committee plans to make pitches for donations to both Silverthorne and Breckenridge this week.
But local governments have their own RAMP projects they’re hoping to push through; those will be competing directly with the Grand County Hwy. 9 proposal for the $1.5 billion in available funding.
Summit County officials say they plan to use in-kind donations, such as right-of-ways and maintenance services, to come up with the 20 percent match for local RAMP applications.
The state transportation commission will allocate the RAMP funding in September.