Gov. Hickenlooper suggests team approach to cope with impacts of Grand Avenue Bridge project
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — It shouldn’t be left to any single entity to mitigate the potential economic impacts locally when construction begins on the new Grand Avenue Bridge, Gov. John Hickenlooper said before a gathering of local elected and business leaders here Friday.
“Everybody that’s impacted should have some skin in the game,” Hickenlooper said when questioned by Glenwood Springs Mayor Leo McKinney about the state’s commitment to help deal with the side effects of the planned $60 million Highway 82 bridge replacement.
That includes the state, the city of Glenwood and upvalley jurisdictions that also stand to be affected by the anticipated traffic disruptions caused when the bridge, which will be paid for through the state’s special Bridge Enterprise Fund, is being built in a couple of years.
For the state’s part, that would include such things as making sure adequate signage, public communication and informational marketing are in place during the project.
It could also involve possibly offering public transit incentives and helping fund other infrastructure improvements to help ease traffic congestion through and around Glenwood Springs when the bridge is being built, the governor said.
The city and the Glenwood Downtown Development Authority recently sought Hickenlooper’s support for a federal grant to help pay for the planned Eighth Street connection that would go a long way to address those concerns.
Even though the grant request did not go forward, “We will continue to look at other funds and will ask for your support on this,” DDA Executive Director Leslie Bethel said.
The Friday forum in Glenwood Springs focused mostly on economic development issues, although issues related to public K-12 education and health care were also touched on. Hickenlooper made the stop while on his way to host the Democratic Governors Association Summer Policy Conference in Aspen this weekend.
The governor re-stated his support for a nearly $1 billion state income tax increase to boost funding for K-12 education that will be before voters this fall.
From providing a fairer funding structure across the state and supporting early childhood education programs and intervention to creating more transparency in the system, the tax proposal makes sense, Hickenlooper said.
“Even if this passes, Colorado will still have one of the lowest income taxes among most of the states we compete with,” he said. “I guarantee that when we do this school districts will become more competitive, and you will see the success of our schools go up.”
Despite some of the more divisive issues that dominated Colorado politics this year, the state has not lost sight of creating jobs and focusing on the state’s economy, Hickenlooper also stressed.
“We continue to work on ways to access capital to make sure we have a well-trained workforce … and making our state government more supporting of business,” said Hickenlooper.
That includes promoting regulation of the oil and gas industry that he said the industry itself can support. The state is also working to get rid of or modify state regulations that make it difficult to start a new business or relocate a business to the state, he said.
“We are on the way to becoming one of the most effective state governments” in terms of promoting and supporting business, Hickenlooper said.
Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky and state Rep. Bob Rankin questioned the governor on the state’s roll in ensuring oil and gas development can continue on federal lands in the state.
“The Piceance Basin holds more natural gas than just about anywhere else in the United States,” Jankovsky said.
But, extensive federal reviews related to sage grouse protection and the re-opening of the Roan Plateau resource management plan, make it difficult for an economy that relies on multiple use of public lands, Jankovsky said.
Hickenlooper said he supports “all energy options,” and an approach that “keeps all land uses in mind when we consider these issues.”
Regarding the state’s plan to challenge the city of Longmont over its ban on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involving development of oil and gas leases within the city, Hickenlooper said the state is obligated to uphold the constitutional protection of split estate mineral rights.
“It’s a screwed up system, but it’s in the constitution and it’s the system we’re stuck with,” Hickenlooper said.
Rankin, a Republican from Carbondale representing the 57th District in the Colorado House, said that while he agrees with the governor’s economic goals, he can’t support Hickenlooper’s position on the education tax or his support for the new renewable energy requirement for rural electric cooperatives that were recently signed into law.
“It’s clearly a bill to support the solar and wind interests on the Front Range,” Rankin said. “There’s nothing good for Western Colorado in that bill.”
The education tax proposal is also more focused on Front Range schools, Rankin said. “I don’t think it helps rural Colorado at all.”
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Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon closed around 9 p.m. Thursday for a flash flood warning.