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Carbondale wrestles with gorilla in its midst

Lynn Burton
Staff Writer

Carbondale is grappling with a 900-pound gorilla.

The gorilla is better known as Highway 133, and town leaders admit that the Colorado Department of Transportation probably won’t contribute much to tame the beast any time soon.

“There’s going to be more traffic than the highway can handle,” said Carbondale Mayor Michael Hassig. “We have to plan on CDOT not being there.”

Since the early 1990s, Carbondale has required individual developers to upgrade Highway 133 in bits and pieces, but with the proposed Crystal River Marketplace, Carbondale is getting more serious on figuring out how to fund long-term improvements.

At a joint meeting of the Board of Trustees and the Planning and Zoning Commission last Thursday, Ford Frick BBC Consulting outlined several funding mechanisms. These include traffic impact fees charged to new development, special improvement districts, and sales taxes charged to businesses on Highway 133.

One funding mechanism is called Private Incremental Financing (PIF).

Taking Crystal River Marketplace as an example, stores and businesses would add what amounts to a sales tax to each transaction, earmarking the money for Highway 133 upgrades.

“In Denver, mall developers have paid large sums for highway improvements this way,” Hassig said.

BBC consultants didn’t predict how much money a PIF or any other mechanism could yield.

Hassig said with a dedicated income source from a PIF, Carbondale could bond for highway improvements.

Another sales tax related source could be a public/private partnership called Enhanced Sales Tax Increment Financing (a STIF).

For a STIF, the town and a developer would agree to earmark a percent of future sales tax revenues for public improvements, in this case Highway 133 upgrades. These revenues could also fund a bond issue.

“The bond is typically 10 years,” Hassig said.

Funds could also be raised through a sales tax or property tax in a special improvement district.

Another approach is to charge businesses based on the number of vehicle trips they create. In some special districts, businesses are assessed a fee based on the length of their highway frontage.

Impact fees could also be charged to new developments, based on their impacts to Highway 133.

“We now have a set of tools,” Hassig said of the options. “The trick will be blending these for an equitable (funding) mechanism.”

The town has estimated it will cost $13 million to $14 million to four-lane Highway 133 from the Roaring Fork bridge to the south end of town. A new interchange at Highway 82 will cost another $27 million.

A four-lane highway may or may not be in Carbondale’s future, and Hassig said the town may be in for “Chevy improvements, not a Cadillac.”

Carbondale officials will host an open house to explain the different improvement scenarios from 4 to 7 p.m., Wednesday, May 8, at Town Hall.


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