Eagle, Gypsum mull Highway 6 takeover | AspenTimes.com

Eagle, Gypsum mull Highway 6 takeover

Sarah Mausolf
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colo. – Eagle and Gypsum officials might take control of the stretch of U.S. Highway 6 that runs through those towns.

A state program would transfer the responsibility of maintaining the road from the Colorado Department of Transportation to the towns. It also would give the towns $11.76 million to cover the costs of maintaining Highway 6 over the next 20 years, Gypsum’s engineering technician Ross Morgan said.

It is up to town officials to decide whether they want to participate in the voluntary state program. The issue likely will come to a vote for both town boards on July 14.

This program appeals to some local officials because it comes with money to maintain Highway 6, even if the money only covers 20 years worth of road work.

Morgan said state lawmakers defeated a bill earlier this year that would have forced towns to take over the responsibility of maintaining and funding highways in their towns. That bill would not have provided towns with the funding to maintain those highways, he said.

Although that bill was quashed, Morgan said, he fears similar legislation will crop up in the future. “We’d rather get ahead of the curve and get some money out of this if possible,” Morgan said.

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State Rep. Christine Scanlan, who represents Eagle County, said she is not aware of any upcoming bills that would transfer the control of highways from the state to towns. Scanlan said her concern with any bill that would transfer highway responsibilities from the state to local governments would be making sure a long-term funding source is in place to maintain the highways.

“I would hate to relieve the state of a burden only to have it pushed down to a local level without a long-term funding strategy,” she said in an e-mail.

A potential benefit of taking control of Highway 6 is that the town can move forward more quickly with road work projects if it does not have to wait for CDOT’s approval, Gypsum Mayor Pro Tem Richard Mayne said.

“Some of the improvements we would like to make require a certain traffic count from CDOT,” he said. “Sometimes that works fine. Sometimes we think it would be better traffic control to be able to do that a little sooner than what they would allow to happen.”

For example, the town could move forward more quickly with widening Highway 6 from two to four lanes, Morgan said.

That project has been languishing on a CDOT list of municipal projects awaiting funding.

“We’ve been on this list for a few years,” Morgan said. “It’s not gaining momentum in being funded.”

If the town takes control of the project, it could be completed in five to 10 years, Morgan estimated.

Likewise, the town could have speedier access to the many sewer mains that run under Highway 6, he said.

To do any work on the sewer mains, the town has to spend hours and money on getting permits from CDOT to access them, Morgan said.

Although the state program provides funding for 20 years worth of maintenance on Highway 6, that money will run out eventually.

“It’s not a lot of money for 20 years, and it’s certainly not a lot of money for the remainder of the life of that road,” Morgan said. “It is going to be a cost burden to the town. There is no question about that.

“But the alternative is waiting until CDOT is really struggling (financially) and they start dumping their highways and we get no benefit from it.”

Morgan said figures from CDOT suggest that Highway 6 will cost about $200,000 per year to maintain once the $11.76 million in state funding runs out.

Mayne said he doesn’t think the town will have to raise taxes to cover that cost. He argues that future commercial developments will bring in enough additional sales taxes revenue to pay for Highway 6.

If both Eagle and Gypsum officials decide to move forward with the state program, the next step is a state transportation commission meeting on July 16, during which the state is expected to allocate the money, Morgan said.

Michelle Halstead, local government liaison for CDOT, could not be reached for comment by deadline.

smausolf@vaildaily.com

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