South Bridge might, might not delay other project |

South Bridge might, might not delay other project

State and federal officials disagree on whether the $6.5 million in federal funding for the proposed South Bridge in Glenwood Springs would delay a Highway 24 project near Leadville.

Blair Jones, press secretary for 3rd District Congressman Scott McInnis, said the $6.5 million is over and above the $2.6 billion in transportation spending allocated for Colorado over the next six years.

And Jim Berard, Democratic communications director for the U.S. House Transportation Committee, said his understanding is that the bridge funding would come in addition to the transportation grants made to each state.

Jones and Berard noted that state officials must decide how to spend Colorado’s share of the non-earmarked federal transportation grant money.

But Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Stacey Stegman said projects earmarked in the federal Transportation Equity Act, like the South Bridge project, trim the overall federal grant money to states.

“We have less money to send around the state to fund all the planning region projects because we have to fund the earmarks in addition,” Stegman said.

“On one side, the money is still coming back to Colorado,” she said. “But we work so hard to come up with a very prioritized plan, thanks to local input. These earmarks definitely throw a wrench into that whole process and don’t allow us to meet those needs.”

She said the CDOT’s intermountain transportation region, which includes Garfield and Lake counties, is budgeted to get $12.3 million for projects to be done from 2005 to 2010.

The planning group for that region has decided to spend the money on a $1.1 million loan repayment for an Interstate 70 project, $11 million for safety and widening to Highway 24 between Leadville and Tennessee Pass, and $200,000, to be spent in 2010, to design the Highway 82 interchange for the South Bridge project.

Stegman said McInnis’ plan would leave $4.7 million for the Highway 24 project over the next five years.

If the regional planning group still puts a high priority on the Highway 24 project after 2010, the remaining $6.3 million could be directed to the project at that time, she said.

Larry Thompson, Glenwood Springs city engineer, confirmed that plan after attending a regional planning meeting in Grand Junction last week.

Transportation planning region board members decided that if the South Bridge money stays in the federal bill, the Highway 24 project would be split, with $4.7 million spent between 2005 and 2010, he said. It would again become a top priority for spending after 2010.

The $6.5 million falls short of the total cost estimate for the South Bridge project, which would extend Airport Road south, curving to meet a new bridge across the Roaring Fork River and over to Highway 82.

The bridge project is estimated to cost $8 million to $12 million, including roadway approaches, according to Thompson.

The price differential depends on the chosen route for the road and bridge project. The city airport runway crosses the most direct route, but city officials and voters have so far rejected efforts to close the airport.

A new Highway 82 interchange for the South Bridge is estimated to cost an additional $1.5 million.

That leaves a funding shortfall of $3 million to $7 million for the project.

“Someone has to come up with the remainder, because the $6.5 million will not cover the entire project,” Thompson said.

From McInnis’ office, Jones noted that the $6.5 million “is a federal promise to Glenwood Springs, contingent on the city finding matching funds.”

On Monday, Garfield County Commissioner John Martin said the county has contributed nearly $350,000 to the project.

That includes $250,000 toward a feasibility study on the project, and $94,000 toward the construction of a roundabout at the intersection of Midland Avenue, Airport Road and Four Mile Road.

Meanwhile, the federal bill, formally titled the Transportation Equity Act ” A Legacy for Users, or TEA-LU, has yet to be approved by Congress.

The House and Senate have passed different versions, so the next step is for a conference committee from both houses to reach agreement.

The House version of the bill carries $275 billion in spending over a six-year period. In addition to the South Bridge, it contains 2,837 other earmarked projects across the country totalling $11 billion.

That includes 21 other Colorado highway projects worth $118 million and four in-state transit projects worth $17 million.

The Senate version of the bill calls for $318 billion in spending, but has no earmarked projects, Berard said.

House Transportation Committee members originally sought a $375 billion, six-year spending bill, which would have required a 5-cent addition to the 18-cent federal gasoline tax, he said.

But President Bush gave the gas tax increase a thumbs-down response, and instead proposed a $256 billion plan.

It’s now up to the conference committee to reconcile the House and Senate versions, and it will be up to the president to decide whether to accept a more costly spending plan or issue his first veto, Berard said.

He noted that the TEA-LU legislation includes the opportunity to reopen the bill in two years. Congress could try then to increase the gas tax, raising enough money to build more projects across the country.

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