Entrance, Highway 82 funds no sure thing
Colorado Department of Transportation Director Tom Norton reiterated yesterday that there are no guarantees the state will ever pay for the Entrance to Aspen, and no promises to be made about when work at Snowmass Canyon will begin.
In fact, Norton said, local taxpayers can’t even be sure local dollars currently being spent to build a roundabout at the intersection of Highway 82 and Maroon Creek Road will ever be reimbursed.
Norton was in Glenwood Springs yesterday at the request of local officials, who wanted to clarify their stance on funding for the ongoing widening of Highway 82 between Glenwood and Aspen.
Norton appeared annoyed through much of the meeting, and at one point expressed frustration with Pitkin County Commissioner Mick Ireland. But even if he didn’t believe the Entrance to Aspen was slated for funding, and adamantly refused to back it with a recommendation to the Colorado Transportation Commission, Norton admitted at the end of the meeting that Highway 82 will not be finished until it is completed all the way between Glenwood Springs and Aspen.
“It’s a good project,” he said of the Entrance to Aspen, “but your connotation that your needs somehow belong above those of the other 4.5 million people in this state, who have equally important projects, is bothersome to me.”
The meeting with Norton was scheduled earlier this spring after it became apparent the state had no plans to pay for the final leg of the highway expansion from two to four lanes. Local officials have long thought the Entrance to Aspen was listed in the state’s so-called 7th Pot of 28 high-priority projects.
The 7th Pot gets its name from the fact the state is divided into six transportation regions, each with its own budget (or pot) for projects. The 7th Pot funds certain projects not included in the regional budgets. The transportation commission is currently grappling with a 7th Pot budget shortfall of nearly $300 million for next year.
Gov. Bill Owens is hoping voters will give the state authority to borrow money and head off years of funding shortfalls. Without bonding authority, warn Norton and the governor, Highway 82 and every other major highway project can expect delays of anywhere from two to 25 years.
Yesterday’s gathering opened with an hourlong presentation by local officials, who presented evidence that the Entrance to Aspen has been part of the 7th Pot from the start. In fact, Aspen Mayor John Bennett and other elected officials discussed the situation with transportation commission Chairman Roger Cracraft a few hours before the meeting.
“When we wrote the 7th Pot plan,” Cracraft reportedly said, “we identified the corridor as Glenwood Springs to Aspen. The Entrance to Aspen was clearly intended to be part of the 7th Pot, and as far as I’m concerned, it still is.”
At one point in the meeting, state Rep. Russell George of Rifle intervened to defend Ireland from Norton’s wrath after the county commissioner urged Norton to recommend funding for the roundabout.
Ireland has gained support from regional officials to pay for the roundabout out of the regional budget, but the plan needs support from the transportation commission. He suggested to Norton that approval would be a good way to show Western Slope voters that the state intends to spend money everywhere if they authorize the bonds.
“Your telling me that you will not support the TRANS bond without this money is a problem,” Norton said.
“It’s the other way around,” George said.
“That’s blackmail,” Norton replied.
“No it’s not,” George countered. “It’s a political reality.”
The transportation commission will meet next week and draft two highway budgets for next year – one to be used if the bond passes in the fall, one in case it doesn’t. It will decide the question of regional funding for the roundabout in August.
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Highway 82 is closed in both directions Wednesday morning after a multiple vehicle crash, according to a Pitkin County alert.