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CDOT budget challenges increasing

JANE STEBBINSsummit daily news

BRECKENRIDGE – The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) budget shortfalls are so severe, the agency could end up delaying projects and improvements to state highways, including widening Highway 9 between Frisco and Breckenridge.According to CDOT commissioner Doug Aden, the agency has exhausted its ability to bond under a referendum voters approved in 2001, funding garnered from a sales tax on auto-related items has been diverted to the general fund for the past three years and beginning July 1, CDOT faces an annual bill of $160 million to pay off the $1.7 billion in bonds it has acquired.”It’s (the budget) going to take a hit in the next few years, particularly the regional priority program that affects small, local projects,” Aden told county commissioners Tuesday. “It looks pretty grim. Right now, it’s not a pretty picture.”The news didn’t surprise those in the know.”It’s too bad,” said County Commissioner Bill Wallace. “The roads are going to hell in a handbasket, and that’s the way it’s going to be unless we get more funding. The state of Colorado is going in the totally wrong direction as far as transportation goes.””That was true two years ago,” said state Rep. Gary Lindstrom, D-Breckenridge, of the funding shortfalls. “Every time they came into meetings, they’d say the same thing.” Frisco’s double lane on-ramp project wasn’t budgeted for, “yet they lifted up a rock and found it somewhere,” Lindstrom said.That project and the roundabout in Breckenridge are still scheduled to begin this summer, as is erosion control along Straight Creek and a lighting project in the north bore of the Eisenhower Tunnel.Traffic operations projects set to begin this year include installing fiber optics and closed-circuit TVs along I-70 from the intersection of Sixth and Kipling in Denver to Frisco and wire rope safety fences in five sites between Frisco and Copper Mountain and on Hoosier Pass.Highway 9 widening from Frisco to Breckenridge will be ready to go – when funding becomes available. But widening Hoosier Pass, originally planned for 2006, has now been placed on the back burner.Major work – not including that which addresses safety – on Interstate 70 between Denver and Glenwood Springs won’t even begin for another 10 years. Yet CDOT officials are still taking comment on their preferred alternatives for addressing congestion on I-70. Financing sources have yet to be figured out, said CDOT engineer Ina Zisman.The top priority for CDOT is to maintain its existing highways and bridges.”We’ve got bridges all over the state that are in really bad shape,” Aden said. “If something’s not done real quick, it could present some safety issues over time.”One goal is to keep 60 percent of road surface conditions at good or fair condition and 40 percent in poor condition. Even with those low expectations, CDOT is still short $100 million a year, Aden said.Commissioner Bill Wallace suggested the public and elected officials make it a campaign issue in upcoming years to secure additional funding for CDOT.A challenge is that the driving public sees all these projects under way – T-Rex in Denver, widening projects on Berthoud and Wolf Creek passes, improvements on highways 50 and 85 – and believes CDOT has plenty of money.But it’s all borrowed – and spent – funds, Aden said.Region 1 director Jeff Kullman said the region would have received $25 million this year if the recession hadn’t hit in 2001. Instead, it will be allocated $6 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1, $13 million next year and $3.3 million in 2007.Region 1 comprises 12 counties: Summit, Park, Clear Creek, Gilpin, Jefferson, Douglas, Adams, Arapahoe, Elbert, Lincoln, Kit Carson and Cheyenne.County Commissioner Tom Long noted that Colorado is 48th in the nation in the amount of federal funding it receives for transportation.That likely won’t improve under President Bush’s 2006 budget. It provides a nominal increase to the U.S. Department of Transportation to $284 billion. Of that, Colorado is likely to see $291.4 million.Aden said that will likely result in the states and local governments taking on more of the burden for highway projects.Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or jstebbins@summitdaily.com.


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