Hwy. 82 funds to be cut? | AspenTimes.com

Hwy. 82 funds to be cut?

Funding for the expansion of Highway 82 to four lanes through Snowmass Canyon is in “jeopardy” of disappearing for an unknown amount of time, according to the mayors of Aspen and Basalt.

Basalt Mayor Rick Stevens rang the warning bell at a Town Council meeting last night.

“It looks like things are going to come to a halt on Highway 82,” Stevens said.

He urged the board to be prepared to mount a lobbying effort with the Colorado Department of Transportation and other state officials to retain the funding.

Aspen Mayor John Bennett confirmed last night that he met with the other valley mayors earlier Tuesday and told them of the reported cutoff of funding.

“I have heard … from sources who should know, within CDOT, that the funding for Snowmass Canyon is in jeopardy,” Bennett said.

He said his sources indicated the money would not be lost permanently, but the “funding flow might be cut off for an indeterminate number of years.” `Shock’ to engineer The CDOT engineer responsible for the four-laning project said that information is news to him.

“Oh really! That’s a shock to me,” said CDOT engineer Ralph Trapani when informed of the mayors’ concerns. “I can’t confirm that.”

Trapani said he talked to his boss earlier Tuesday and received no indication that funds would be delayed for the Snowmass Canyon section.

CDOT is currently surveying and performing geologic studies of the canyon in preparation for putting that section of the highway expansion project out to bid next spring.

The section in question stretches from the Old Snowmass Conoco to Gerbazdale. It’s regarded as one of the most difficult pieces of the highway expansion project because the canyon is so narrow.

The state had earmarked $95 million for the Snowmass Canyon work, which was supposed to begin next year and continue over the next few years.

Trapani said he would be surprised if the funds for that part of the project were taken away. He said state officials have discussed “reprioritization” of highway projects that could temporarily affect funding, but he downplayed any long-term consequences.

Trapani did acknowledge that the mayors may have sources with different information than he does. Mayors take offensive Whatever their source of information, the mayors have taken it seriously enough that they are already mounting a lobbying effort to retain funding.

Bennett said two meetings have been set up – one in May with the state transportation commission, an appointed board, and the second in June with Tom Norton, who heads CDOT. “We are working very, very hard,” Bennett stressed. “We take this very seriously. There is a valleywide effort under way to convince CDOT that finishing Snowmass Canyon is critically important to the valley.”

Basalt Town Council members were aghast Tuesday night to learn funding could be delayed.

“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” said Councilwoman Anne Freedman. She said she couldn’t understand why millions would be spent to widen the highway on either side of Snowmass Canyon, only to leave that stretch at two lanes.

Stevens said the hour-glass effect would create traffic snarls that would make Basalt’s infamous “worm hole” pale by comparison.

The board agreed to support whatever lobbying efforts are needed for the funds. Wrapped in state politics? Whether the Roaring Fork Valley can make an impact with its lobbying is the big unknown. Politics may divert the funds if they are needed in a more populous part of the state.

Gov. Bill Owens is banking on voter support in November for a ballot question seeking $2.3 billion in revenue anticipation funds for highway projects. Owens, a Republican, was elected last November in part on his promise to fix the Front Range’s clogged Interstate 25 artery.

While waiting for the November ballot question, state officials are discussing the “reprioritization” of highway projects and their funding. It’s unknown if Bennett’s sources know something about the potential outcome of those talks.

Aspen Times staff writer John Colson contributed to this report.

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