Road block: State not interested in Hwy. 133 upgrades | AspenTimes.com

Road block: State not interested in Hwy. 133 upgrades

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Convincing state bureaucrats and legislators to fund improvements to one of Carbondale’s most troublesome intersections is going to take some doing.

In fact, it might take so much doing that it can’t be done at all.

Carbondale’s assistant town manager, Bentley Henderson, was told in no uncertain terms last Friday that the growing backups at the intersection of Highway 133 and Highway 82 are not a matter of statewide significance. And that means the state is unlikely to cough up any money for improvements, especially in the current atmosphere of budgetary cutbacks.

“When we’re building a case for more money from the state legislature, we need to pick projects that resonate with the greatest number of people,” said Jennifer Finch, a Colorado Department of Transportation staff member.

Finch and Henderson discussed the subject at last Friday’s meeting of the Strategic Transportation Advisory Committee in Denver. The advisory committee advises the state Transportation Commission on budgetary and planning issues.

Henderson traveled down to the Front Range with Garfield County Commissioner John Martin to make the case for state funding of major improvements to the intersection.

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Highway 133 is the primary access in and out of Carbondale for visitors and residents alike. As the town has grown from a ranching and mining community where people live and work into a bedroom community for Aspen and Glenwood Springs, traffic has become an issue.

The problems at the intersection are likely to become significantly worse in the next few years after completion of a major mall on the empty fields next to Colorado Rocky Mountain School. Planners are hoping the development will draw a “Big Box” store such as Target or Wal-Mart.

Carbondale town officials and trustees have so far been reluctant to require or even ask the developer to pay for improvements to the highway as part of the development approval.

Henderson didn’t hold back his opinions on CDOT’s system of deciding which projects to fund.

He pointed out that the Highway 133/Highway 82 intersection was considered the highest priority project by Garfield County officials, even above the Highway 82 bypass of Grand Avenue for which Glenwood Springs has been lobbying.

“CDOT’s prioritization system of judging projects based on set criteria goes against the local planning process. I would almost question the need for a local process,” Henderson said to Finch and the county commissioners from around the state who sit on the advisory committee.

Garfield County Commissioner Martin pointed out that CDOT planners had even overlooked the need to improve Highway 13 in Garfield County, which runs north from Rifle toward Meeker and Craig. And that’s despite improvements to the same road in Rio Blanco County making the department’s list.

The two segments of road “join at the county line, and continuity is important,” Martin told the assembled officials. He avoided getting into the discussion on Highway 133, however. After the meeting Martin did say there may be money available from a different set of CDOT funds than the one Henderson was talking about.

A bridge in Glenwood Springs may not be built as scheduled, and Martin would like to see some or all of the money that’s earmarked for the bridge shifted to planning Highway 133. The money Martin is referring to comes from regional funds that CDOT doles out each year, while the money Henderson was seeking comes from a statewide fund that pays for high priority projects.

Finch noted that the current budget crisis in Colorado means that fewer dollars are available for highway improvements, especially on a statewide basis.

“The challenge is to get this list [of statewide projects] smaller, not bigger before we submit it to the Transportation Commission at the end of April,” Finch said. The projects that are ultimately submitted for statewide funding must be easy to recognize as significant.

“People in Denver, Fort Collins and Grand Junction must be able to understand that these projects are of statewide significance,” Finch said.

By the end of the meeting it was clear that the Highway 133 problem wasn’t likely to rise to the top of CDOT’s funding priorities anytime soon. But Henderson thought there was a good chance that it could make a list of second-tier projects that would be up for funding if budgetary conditions improve.