Any talk of a Highway 82 bypass around Glenwood Springs, given current funding constraints for transportation projects in Colorado, is merely “fantasy,” state transportation officials advised members of the Glenwood Springs Rotary Club on Friday.
“There’s no money for that and no consensus in the community” about how to accomplish a bypass and where to build it, said Doug Aden, Region 3 state transportation commissioner and a member of the Colorado Bridge Enterprise board.
Aden acknowledged that some residents may remain opposed to a new Grand Avenue bridge without planning for an eventual bypass, but noted that the bridge project has the “unanimous support” of local elected officials.
“At some point, we need someone to work with on this, and that’s who we’ve been working with,” he said.
Don Hunt, executive director for the Colorado Department of Transportation, was the guest speaker at the weekly Rotary meeting. He was joined by Aden and other CDOT officials who are involved in regional transportation projects, including the Highway 82 bridge in Glenwood Springs.
The project is slated to receive $60 million in dedicated state Bridge Enterprise dollars for construction alone. The total cost including the environmental review and design phase, now estimated at more than $100 million, ranks as the largest Bridge Enterprise project in the state, Hunt said.
“This is a very important project to you and for CDOT,” he said. “We want you to have a great bridge out here.”
That doesn’t mean the discussion should end about a broader solution to traffic congestion in Glenwood Springs, and potential options for another future Colorado River crossing.
“We would be happy to work with the community on a plan for the long run,” Hunt said in response to concerns raised by John Haines, president of the Save Grand Avenue citizens group that opposes the current bridge project.
“We don’t have a funding source to do that now,” he said. “If the community doesn’t want to rebuild the Grand Avenue bridge, we’re happy to walk away from it. We’ve got plenty of other projects elsewhere in the state.”
Hunt also explained to the Rotary gathering the current funding mechanism for highway projects and maintenance in Colorado.
The state has a $251 million annual highway maintenance budget, including $64 million spent on snow and ice control alone, he said.
“Asset management,” or making sure the existing infrastructure is kept in good shape, costs another $503 million per year. That includes $169 million available for bridge rehabilitation and reconstruction.
Bridge funds are steered to fixing or replacing bridges that are deemed to be structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. The Grand Avenue bridge project is receiving funding due to the latter, because it is too narrow to carry four lanes of traffic. At more than 60 years old, it also has some structural issues, the CDOT officials explained.
One of the bigger problems for Colorado is that it is too dependent on federal funding, which is starting to dry up. That could mean some tough decisions for Colorado voters in the near future related to taxes, Hunt said.
“Coloradoans have said they are not ready to increase fees or taxes to improve highways,” he said. “We need to get people to understand that a tax is an investment in our economic health.”