Tapia lobs shot at Tipton over highway funding bill
A federal highway funding bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives recently is not adequate to support important local transportation projects such as the Grand Avenue Bridge in Glenwood Springs, says Abel Tapia, the Democratic candidate vying for the congressional seat now held by Republican Scott Tipton.
“This bridge is used as a metaphor for each of the 29 counties in the Third Congressional District, where projects require federal support and advocacy, and I haven’t seen that happening,” Tapia, a former state senator from Pueblo, said during a whistle stop at the Glenwood Springs Amtrak train station Aug. 9.
“Last week, Congress failed to come to any agreement that provides long-term funding for the Highway Bill, which will make the project questionable at best,” he said during a speech to a handful of local supporters.
Tapia’s comments were included in a news release earlier this week. He was also critical of Tipton’s vote to provide funding only until May 2015, saying that’s “not enough time or funding to complete projects even where funding has been approved.”
Tipton reacted Thursday following a town hall meeting of his own in Glenwood Springs, saying partial funding was the only resolution that came to a vote, and that’s all he had to decide on.
“I have been advocating for seven years of funding and creating some certainty going forward,” the second-term congressman from Cortez said. “I think we have to have that funding in the pipeline.”
The bill does provide a short-term funding solution, Tipton said. But, because the federal Highway Users Tax Fund is quickly being exhausted and is not keeping up with needs, a longer-term fix is needed, he agreed.
“If you drive down any road in Colorado, mostly certainly we do have roads to build and bridges to look at,” Tipton said, “but there are not a lot of resources.”
Tipton was hesitant to say an increase in the federal gas tax might be a solution but said the federal government can do more to help states bond for larger infrastructure projects.
Tapia added that a sound highway infrastructure is important for small businesses and the workforce for commuting and “to get goods from one place to another.”
“As a civil engineer and small businessman, I understand how important it is to our economy to have an infrastructure that allows us to sustain jobs and businesses,” Tapia said.
Although the Grand Avenue Bridge project is to be paid for through the state of Colorado’s special Bridge Enterprise fund, those dollars are considered “federalized,” because bonding is used and is to be paid back with a portion of federal “bridge replacement” funding, according to Joe Elsen, program engineer for the Colorado Department of Transportation.
The estimated $60 million to $70 million construction phase of the larger, approximately $100 million bridge project is also federalized in order to leave the door open for additional funding sources, he explained.
That’s also one of the reasons the project requires the completion of a National Environmental Protection Act Environmental Assessment before it can move forward.
“The bridge does cross the interstate (I-70) corridor, and we will need to have lane closures and detours as well as temporary construction access point changes,” Elsen said.
Bridge project planners are actively pursuing additional funding to make up what is now believed to be a nearly $10 million funding gap to pay for the new bridge. The could involve additional federal money at some point, he said.
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