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Modernization of Colorado state highways throughout the Western Slope is suffering from a near-death experience. Hundreds of miles of state roads constructed in the 1930s are forced to meet 2004 traffic needs (Highway 13 between Rifle and Meeker and near the Wyoming line; Highway 92 from east of Delta to Hotchkiss; Highway 133 to Paonia and U.S. 50 west of Blue Mesa Dam).

Many miles of “paved wagon roads” still exist (Highway 133 south of Paonia Dam). These obsolete roads are narrow, lack shoulders, surprise drivers with sharp curves, lack guardrails, and in most cases are inadequately banked. Consequently, too many people are unnecessarily being injured and killed.

Who’s to blame? Not staff in the regional CDOT offices; they are doing the best they can with very limited allotments of highway-user tax funds.

Out of the Grand Junction regional office, only two highways are receiving substantial allotments. The last segment of U.S. 50 between Grand Junction and Delta recently was let to contract. SH 82 through Snowmass Canyon will be completed by next summer. Other modernization needs may have to wait 20 or 30 years.

Most of the blame must be directed at CDOT management and the state Transportation Commission.

According to releases by CDOT, that agency has a gross available income of about $1 billion a year. Where is that money going?

Quite a bit of it goes for contract maintenance, such as resurfacing, but only a handful of modernization projects go to contract each year. What percentage of the total CDOT budget goes toward modernization of West Slope highways?

Here are some examples of poor utilization of available funds:

– The cost of the Interstate 70 mountain corridor programmatic EIS is nearing $20 million. With no funding in sight, the conclusions of the PEIS will be outdated if and when funds become available for design and construction. So far the only conclusion reached is that Colorado cannot afford high-speed rail along the I-70 corridor. Duh!

– CDOT, with the backing of the transportation commissioners, is spending money on the preliminary design of a new I-70 interchange serving the Eagle County Airport. Estimated cost of this project is about $70 million. The airport is presently adequately served by the Eagle and Gypsum interchanges.

The chief beneficiaries of this waste of taxpayers’ money are Vail-area resorts and users hurrying to or from their private jets. More pressing needs are improvements at the two Glenwood Springs interchanges and relocation of Highway 82 off Grand Avenue.

– Too much engineering is being done by costly private consultants instead of by staffing up regional offices to handle all but the largest and most complex projects.

The Federal Highway Administration can be blamed for allowing the scattering of funds through miscellaneous programs such as bike paths. While desirable, they are not of national or state interest and should be funded by local entities.

Costly Denver-area projects are soaking up too much available revenue. When Phoenix residents agreed on the need for a new freeway system, they passed a 0.5 percent sales tax dedicated to funding freeway construction. This “new” money allowed improvements to the remainder of the state system to continue undiminished. The answer to Colorado’s dilemma is a healthy shot of “new” money.

Developments are being approved. Populations are on the increase. Traffic volumes continue to grow. Taxpaying highway users need to demand better utilization of tax dollars.

” Dick Prosence of Meeker and Phoenix retired in 1982 after working 26 years at the Colorado Department of Transportation, serving the last 13 years as district engineer.

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