Rep. Boebert addresses federal funding efforts during visit about Glenwood Canyon
Boebert acknowledges high demand for solution to advance alternate routes
In regards to enhancing alternate routes to help motorists circumvent Interstate 70 closures through Glenwood Canyon, U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., said “we just need to find a proper solution.”
“The closures have caused significant hardships on us all, whenever it happens,” Boebert said after a Tuesday meeting with local officials. “And it’s not just connecting east and west Colorado, it really is connecting the entire country.”
When it comes to exploring alternative routes, “everyone has their own idea of what that can be,” Boebert said.
“We have a few options, and we’re not dead set on just one of those at this time.”
Heavy rains activated the Grizzly Creek Fire burn scar in late July, causing significant debris flows to close down I-70 for a record-breaking 15 consecutive days. During the closure, discussions over alternate routes have taken the forefront of discussions among many local, state and federal officials.
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It’s also on top of the minds of Boebert’s constituents who were affected by the I-70 closures.
“There’s just a demand for something, and they want a solution,” Boebert said. “Obviously, Highway 82 is already gridlocked, and so that’s an issue when it comes to Cottonwood Pass. There’s so many variables to look at.”
So what exactly are the solutions to such a complex problem?
So far, Boebert said she’s sent a letter to U.S. Sens. Michael Bennett and John Hickenlooper and Transportation Secretary Pete)Buttigieg seeking Federal Highway Administration emergency relief program funds. She said she’s also authored a letter with members of Colorado’s congressional delegation for FEMA monies to be diverted to Glenwood Canyon.
Being that the Colorado Department of Transportation has already requested $116 million in relief funds from the Federal Highway Administration on Aug. 8, Boebert said the plan is to wait until after that process.
“We’re actually waiting on CDOT before we send that (FEMA) letter. They don’t want the two to cross and get things kind of mixed up,” she said. “So we have it ready and prepared to send to the President (Joe Biden).”
One major bill that could help mitigation efforts in relation to I-70 in Glenwood Canyon was just passed by the U.S. Senate. The $1 trillion, bipartisan infrastructure bill would effectively allocate monies toward a massive overhaul in national infrastructure, including highways.
On Aug. 11, Boebert joined Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes; Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky; Colorado State Rep. Janice Rich, R-Grand Junction; and state Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, on a tour through Glenwood Canyon.
Boebert described what she saw as devastating.
“It’s just so much more catastrophic than you can imagine,” Boebert said. “But I certainly applaud CDOT and all the employees there who worked tirelessly; we are all praising them here. And I think everyone has praised their efforts to get this reopened quickly and safely.
“And they’ve done a fantastic job, and it was weeks rather than months.”
But Boebert criticized elements of the $550 million in infrastructure funds to be spent over the next five years that would not only be spent on revamping roads and bridges. It also would be used to change the tax reporting requirements for cryptocurrencies, potentially delay a controversial drug rebate rule as well as start addressing racial discrimination in infrastructure.
Boebert said the massive bill — which still has to pass through the U.S. House of Representatives — could potentially push the nation into further debt.
“The infrastructure bill is half garbage,” she said. “And, you know, it’s really unfortunate that this is where we are. We’re $29 trillion in debt. And every bill that comes up is trillions of dollars. I think maybe we didn’t address this when we were in session, because Congress was trying to figure out what comes after a trillion.”
“And then also hearing Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi saying we will not have the infrastructure bill unless there’s a budget reconciliation,” she added. “That’s $3.5 to $5 trillion and it’s just devastating.”
Instead, Boebert said she isn’t coming to the table and just “saying absolutely not, ‘I’m not voting on this legislation,’” she said. Her counter-solution: Introducing another bill that’s explicitly aimed at revamping infrastructure — the American Infrastructure Modernization Act.
“It takes $650 billion of the unspoken COVID money,” she said. “We have nearly a trillion dollars left unspent; no new money’s allocated. We’re not raising taxes, we’re not adding more to inflation and it handles exactly infrastructure — just that.”
Since what’s been occurring in Glenwood Canyon is primarily the product of drought and increases in forest fires — in this instance, the devastating Grizzly Creek Fire of 2020 — there’s another bill Boebert introduced in early July that’s aimed at mitigating wildland fires and hopefully prevent them in the future.
Called the The Active Forest Management, Wildfire Prevention and Community Protection Act, the bill would effectively harvest trees affected by invasive species — specifically, bark beetles. In turn, Forest Reserve Revenue areas would sell the timber.
Mayor Godes said Tuesday’s meeting provided a good chance to speak with Boebert about things that are unique and critical to the region and Glenwood Springs specifically, including alternate routes in relation to I-70.
“It’s tough to talk about Cottonwood (Pass) without what happens when you get down to this side of the pass, how do you intersect with Highway 82? How does South Bridge fit into this equation and help relieve that congestion?” he said, referencing the city’s high-priority bridge project near the municipal airport.
“So, all good conversations,” Godes said. “We also talked a lot about our water and our watershed and what these fires and these rain events mean to our watershed.”
The South Bridge project is a proposed effort to either burrow a tunnel underneath the Glenwood Springs Airport or remove areas of runway then build a bridge crossing the Roaring Fork River connecting with Colorado Highway 82.
Godes said the city is trying to figure out how to find and work in the South Bridge project since the Coal Seam Fire 20 years ago and that “these challenges don’t go away.”
“It’s not a partisan statement at all, or even controversial in any way to say that we have chronically underfunded our country’s infrastructure to a negligent degree throughout the years,” he said. “And so any funding that we can use to bring — I believe the American Association of Civil Engineers consistently rates America’s infrastructure in like the minus range — that investment for our country is important.”
Godes showed support for Boebert’s introduction of the bill that would help mitigate dead trees.
“I think we’re very supportive of anything that can make our community more resilient in our watershed and infrastructure more resilient to wildfire,” he said.
Boebert later echoed Godes’ sentiment.
“I’ve been meeting with state and local and federal officials, agencies, stakeholders all throughout Colorado about our forests, about our forest health, managing our forests, removing the beetle kill and the standing dead trees that we have here in Colorado, to begin to manage that and protect our watershed,” she said. “When we have wildfires, we have mudslides, it impacts our water and our daily lives. And so, we need to come to the table and have a serious conversation about forest management and getting our forests healthy again.”
Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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