Highway 82 funding hits a roadblock
Local officials went to Denver Tuesday to plead for state funding for the Entrance to Aspen.
What they got was an ominous indication that there will be no state money for any more highway construction in the Roaring Fork Valley for at least 20 years. That means no work on the Entrance to Aspen and no work on widening the highway through Snowmass Canyon, between Old Snowmass and Gerbazdale.
“It’s appalling,” said Pitkin County Commissioner Dorothea Farris, after she and other local officials met with executives from the state highway department and the state transportation commission.
“We were asking about highway money,” said Farris, “and one of the [state] commissioners said, `I thought we’d already decided there’s no more money [for the Roaring Fork Valley].'”
Farris said she was outraged that “they have the audacity to even suggest they’ve designed a highway and started building a highway and then they didn’t budget enough money for the highway, so that’s it. I find it an appalling lack of commitment.
“The people of this valley have put their trust in the fact that this highway is going to be completed in some fashion and now here we are being told, `Nothing!’ It’s dishonesty.”
Farris said they were told that local government could pay for highway work on its own and then hope that some money might be repaid, starting in 20 years.
The local officials had originally gone to Denver to discuss money for the Entrance to Aspen.
The Entrance is the final phase of the expansion of Highway 82 between Basalt and Buttermilk ski area from two lanes to four. The entrance is to include two lanes of mass transit and two lanes for regular traffic under plans recently approved by the Colorado Department of Transportation.
The money to build one part of the entrance, a “roundabout” at the intersection of the highway and Maroon Creek Road, has been most specifically in question. The state recently decided to not refund the construction costs if the county goes ahead and builds it before funding for the entire project is approved by the state.
“We still have to caucus among ourselves, and with our constituents, to decide whether to go ahead with the Maroon Creek intersection,” said county Commissioner Leslie Lamont.
But that question becomes minor in the face of indications that there will be no money for any highway work.
All five of the Pitkin County commissioners, plus Aspen Mayor John Bennett, Aspen Mayor-elect Rachel Richards, Snowmass Village Mayor T. Michael Manchester, and city and county staff members, met Tuesday morning in a special work session with Colorado Department of Transportation Executive Director Tom Norton, the regional engineer for the Western Slope, Owen Leonard, and transportation commission members Doug Aden and Roger Cracraft.
Then the local group met with the entire transportation commission for a short time.
Lamont said that while some of the commissioners seemed sympathetic to the Pitkin County delegation’s requests for funding, it was Norton’s “perception” that the “Entrance To Aspen” project is not in the state’s special “seventh pot” list of high-priority highway projects.
Lamont said the delegation argued that “it’s all one project” and should not be split into different segments in terms of overall state endorsement for funding.
But state officials were not buying that argument, Lamont said. “They are saying that there is no funding for the Entrance to Aspen.”
It was during this discussion that one commissioner made the comment that they had already decided there would be no more money for any projects on Highway 82.
State officials have been wrestling with a massive funding shortfall statewide. Estimates show that while there is a total of $668 million in “seventh pot” highway projects slated for the state next year, there is less than $300 million available to pay for the work.
Lamont indicated that local officials hope to continue arguing their case. She said they wanted to make the point that a great deal of local and state money is involved in the Entrance and suggest it would be “prudent” for the state to finish it as soon as possible.
Bennett said that, as far as he knows, Norton will still be coming to the Roaring Fork Valley in early June for another meeting with local officials.
Farris, however, expressed skepticism about hopes for any further progress.
“I don’t think there’s anything to work with,” she said. “It was bad enough back when they told us, `If you won’t accept our kind of road, you won’t get any road at all.’ So we worked with them and came up with a plan that everyone could accept.
“And now this. It’s dishonesty and we don’t, any of us, deal well with dishonesty.”
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