Garfield County faces ‘tens of millions’ in road work
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
GARFIELD COUNTY, Colorado ” Garfield County bureaucrats believe than many of the county’s intersections, particularly where county roads meet state highways, are either inadequate to handle the traffic they experience today, or will soon be insufficient to meet the traffic that will hit them tomorrow.
The Garfield County commissioners recently began the process of figuring out what to do about a problem that is expected to involve millions of dollars in repairs, improvements and reconstruction.
In a memo to the commissioners, dated May 20, planning director Fred Jarman cautioned the elected officials about the decreasing functionality of the county’s road system, which he wrote could be “characterized as a ‘farm to market’ system whose carrying capacity has been compromised due to an increase in general growth and energy exploration and production activity.”
Recent development proposals for areas near certain intersections have shown that “these intersections operate at low or failing levels of service.”
Jarman used the intersection of County Road 300 and Colorado Highway 6, west of Battlement Mesa, as a prime example of what he means, but the memo referred to a dozen other junctions, primarily with state highways 6 and 82, as having significant potential for failure.
In the case of 300 Road, he reported, preliminary estimates indicate that needed improvements to the intersection will cost between $1.2 million and $2 million.
The county’s policies concerning capital improvements for roads are codified in the 1997 Capital Improvements Plan (CIP), which set up a road-impact-fee system and “specified target areas where immediate improvements were needed.”
But the plans “specifically excluded examining improvements to intersections with state highways,” Jarman wrote, adding that “the calculations for these fees are now 12 years old and do not cover areas of the county that have recently been greatly impacted by unforeseen development pressure.”
Jarman also noted that the money collected under the fee system ” $685,000 ” must be spent “within a 20-year horizon” or be returned to the development entities where it originated.
Jarman reported, however, that because the CIP does not cover the intersections of county roads with state highways, the fees cannot be spent on those intersections anyway.
A 2006 traffic and transportation study by the LSC Transportation Consultants group suggested the county increase the traffic impact fees assessed against new residential development, which now stand at $2,680 per single family home, to a new level of $8,485 per single-family home.
“If this system was put in place,” Jarman wrote, “The county could have collected approximately $45 million by 2025 based on population increases [predicted] in the LSC study.”
The LSC study also proposed a gas-well impact fee of a little more than $2,000 per well, which Jarman estimated would have raised $5.5 million by now if it had been inaugurated in 2006.
Jarman noted that Colorado Department of Transportation officials have said that they are “not in a position to make any financial contributions to its intersections due to state budget woes,” meaning the costs of fixing the intersections “will fall squarely to Garfield County or entities that Garfield County can legally delegate to.”
“I do believe that growth, whether it’s commercial or residential, needs to pay for itself,” said Commissioner Tresi Houpt, referring specifically to the effects of growth on the county’s roads system.
She said impact fees currently are assessed only against residential projects, noting, “We need a better way of assessing those costs,” by extending them to commercial and industrial growth as well.
“I don’t think that having an impact fee will chase those people away,” she said, responding to an oft-cited fear from those who oppose government regulations and fees.
The other two commissioners, John Martin and Mike Samson, could not be reached for comment for this story.
Jarman’s memo outlines proposals for the county to require greater fees in the development review process, based on a series of goals, objectives and policies aimed directly at dealing with road improvements, and states that, “The county has the authority to deny development projects if these goals, objectives and policies are not met.”
But because the county does not regulate oil and gas exploration through its land use review process, Jarman suggested the county could set up cost-sharing agreements that split the bills among energy companies, the county, state grants and other development concerns.
County Manager Ed Green said there probably will be a work session dedicated to the issues raised by Jarman’s memo in the coming weeks.
“You’re talking about tens of millions [of dollars] to deal with all of them,” he said of just the roads mentioned in Jarman’s memo, conceding that there probably are more endangered intersections to be found than the ones in the memo.
As for how the county’s budget, as things are now, could handle such costs, Green said, “Not well. I think we’d have to tick ’em off one at a time over a period of time.”
Contact John Colson: 970-429-9143
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