Funds go dry for Entrance to Aspen |

Funds go dry for Entrance to Aspen

ASPEN ” Aspenites can bicker all they want about how Highway 82 should enter Aspen, but the reality is that no state funds exist for any option.

The state government anticipates it will have $189 million less in fiscal year 2008 for its transportation budget than it had in 2007. And current projections for 2009 indicate funding for the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) will drop another $360 million.

“It’s totally dependent on economic conditions,” said CDOT public relations director Stacey Stegman. Funds come from state and federal gas tax revenues as well as the state’s general fund.

During a tour of the Roaring Fork Valley this week, state Rep. Kathleen Curry said the state cannot fund expensive new highway projects for the foreseeable future.

“If it’s more than five bucks, no,” Curry said Tuesday during a meeting in Basalt. Curry, a Democrat from Gunnison, represents a district that includes the Roaring Fork Valley.

At current funding levels, it could take more than 30 years to fund some projects on the state’s priority list of highway projects, Curry said.

Earlier this week, Curry toured Highway 82 east of Aspen with Independence Pass Foundation director Mark Fuller to assess stabilization work the nonprofit organization is undertaking. The Independence Pass Foundation depends on funding from the state and local governments as well as locals who support its cause of repairing the damage from the road cut.

Unfortunately, Curry said, the state has a limited ability to help right now with that worthy project. “We’re doing bake sales to fix seasonal highways,” she lamented.

Stegman said the gloomy funding prospects have forced CDOT to dedicate its limited resources to maintain existing roadways rather than build new projects. That suggests that when the city of Aspen finishes adding bus lanes to Highway 82 west of Aspen, what commuters will see is what they will get for quite some time.

The state transportation department spent $14 million to build a new bridge over Maroon Creek. The bridge opened Tuesday.

The city is building bus lanes on a 1.2-mile stretch of Highway 82 between the Maroon Creek roundabout and Buttermilk. City voters approved $7.8 million in funding for the project in May 2007. The bus lanes will be completed by this fall.

Unresolved is the longer-term vision of the Highway 82 alignment into the city. Some residents favor retaining the S-curves; others want a straight shot between the new bridge and the west end of Main Street. The debate has simmered at times and boiled at others since 1970. The city government stoked the planning process early last year but recently has let the broader debate slide to the back burner while concentrating on the bus lanes.

Meanwhile, the state seeks new ways to fill its transportation coffers. Two questions on the November ballot could affect transportation funding. The first, called Colorado Initiative 120, would dedicate some of the revenues from a severance tax imposed oil, gas and minerals extracted in the state to transportation.

Colorado Initiative 113 envisions a different formula for doling out those revenues, including some for transportation.

Meanwhile, Gov. Bill Ritter has a blue ribbon panel, which includes Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland, exploring ways to raise revenues for transportation projects. Curry said none of the revenue sources being considered will likely make state residents happy. Options include a higher gas tax, a rental car fee, higher vehicle registration fees and tolls on some roads.

Ireland was unavailable by a deadline Wednesday for comment on the state transportation funding dilemma. In the past, Ireland and other officials reasoned that Aspen should have an entrance plan in place so it could be in position to score funds if the state’s situation improves.

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