Entrance, RFTA in line for funds

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The Entrance to Aspen and a bus/rapid transit system for the Roaring Fork Valley are both likely contenders to receive a piece of Colorado’s new $15 billion pot of transportation money.

Gov. Bill Owens signed legislation last week to create the new funding source for highway projects around the state.

Though the Colorado Transportation Commission has yet to rank the state’s most pressing highway needs, both the entrance and the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority transit proposal are likely to place somewhere near the top, predicted Mick Ireland, Pitkin County commissioner.

Ireland and other commissioners and elected officials sit on the State Transportation Advisory Committee, which makes recommendations to the commission.

“There are no guarantees, but we’re in as good a spot as we can be,” Ireland said. “The best part of this bill is the transit component for the Roaring Fork Valley.”

When the Legislature earmarked $15 billion for transportation this spring, it required that 10 percent go to transit projects. In the past, funding bills have simply allowed a certain percentage to be spent on transit, Ireland noted. This time, it’s a mandate.

In anticipation of the new funding, transportation regions around the state submitted highway-project wish lists to the Transportation Commission earlier this year. The RFTA bus/rapid transit plan was the only mass-transit proposal put forth.

“We’re like first in line for a billion dollars. That’s the best thing about it,” Ireland said.

Commission officials have already conceded they will need to reopen the process and consider additional transit proposals, he said.

RFTA’s proposal calls for a variety of equipment and road improvements to make its bus system more efficient.

Both local projects are among 28 from around the state that the commission is expected to rank over the next few months.

The Entrance to Aspen, the last leg of improvements to Highway 82, is among about a dozen highway projects that remained in the state’s so-called 7th pot of priority projects, but had been unfunded. All of those projects are expected to rise to the top as the Transportation Commission develops a new prioritized list, Ireland said.

“The Transportation Commission basically said, `yeah, those have to be first – the holdovers,'” he said.

The legislation signed by Owens last week will add $15 billion in new money to $17 billion provided by existing revenue. The state also receives federal funding for transportation. The money is not expected to start flowing for two years.