Build bridge, but not at Leadville’s expense |

Build bridge, but not at Leadville’s expense

Third District Congressman Scott McInnis has managed to lasso $6.5 million in federal funds to pay for much of a new South Bridge project in Glenwood Springs.

His staff says the earmarked money comes in addition to the federal payback of federal gasoline tax revenues for Colorado highway projects. But state transportation officials say the $6.5 million for the Glenwood project will come at the expense of a highway project near Leadville, postponing much of the Leadville project until 2010 or later.

It’s a fuzzy situation, and one that will remain unclear until Congress agrees on a final version of the Transportation Equity Act and the money begins to be doled out to states. The situation also sets the state Department of Transportation up as the hatchet man, leaving the agency with less money for projects on its priority lists.

The Leadville project got a high priority ranking from a regional planning process that is meant to take the politics, and the pork, out of highway spending.

Local leaders meet and hash out the relative merits of their projects and decide together how to spend a limited pool of money. The process means a community doesn’t have to have a hometown congressman to gain project funding.

On this go-around, Glenwood Springs may come out a winner, thanks to the extra efforts of McInnis. But the same system could come back and bite Glenwood Springs on another occasion.

State transportation officials also note that under other circumstances, they probably wouldn’t fund more than $1.5 million of the South Bridge project, paying just for a new intersection with Highway 82. The rest of the project, estimated to cost $8 million to $12 million, is off the state highway system and would ordinarily be a community responsibility.

Which leads us to ask, if the city of Glenwood Springs was wealthy enough to have considered spending $8 million or more on a golf course (now scuttled), and if the South Bridge project is such a dire safety need, should city leaders move forward on a voter-approved bond issue to build the project?

Glenwood Springs voters have never turned down a tax increase tied to new road construction, as former Mayor Sam Skramstad pointed out in comments to City Council earlier this month. If the South Bridge is that critical, Glenwood Springs should put together a funding plan that pays for the project without elbowing in on projects in neighboring communities.

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