State commission keeps entrance as a top priority | AspenTimes.com

State commission keeps entrance as a top priority

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The Entrance to Aspen survived the first round of review for state transportation priorities this week in Denver.

The Colorado Transportation Commission, which oversees the Colorado Department of Transportation, agreed Wednesday to keep the controversial project at the top of a list of high-priority projects.

That places the Entrance to Aspen among a dozen or so projects that are likely to be paid for from the $15 billion transportation fund created earlier this spring by the legislature. The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s bus/rapid transit proposal is also well-positioned for funding, said Pitkin County Commissioner Mick Ireland.

Ireland is the county’s representative on the state transportation advisory committee, which is made up of county commissioners and other officials from around the state who advise the Transportation Commission.

The advisory committee has spent several months whittling down a list of more than 90 high-priority projects to just 28. To make the list, the projects must be considered of statewide significance.

The Transportation Commission took its first look on Wednesday at the list, which includes the Entrance to Aspen portion of the Highway 82 improvements and RFTA’s plan to build a commuter-oriented bus system.

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“This list is a plan for the next 20 to 25 years,” El Paso County Commissioner Chuck Brown told the Transportation Commission.

The commission directed CDOT staff to refine the advisory committee’s list to include more accurate estimates of cost and scheduling. Projects already in the so-called 7th Pot of high-priority projects, which includes the Entrance to Aspen (but not RFTA’s bus/rapid transit system), are likely to remain at the top of the funding list, Ireland said.

The state is divided into six transportation planning regions, each with its own budget, or pot of money, for highway projects. A seventh pot of money was created by the state legislature in the mid-1990s after it became apparent that the existing transportation funding scheme was not sufficient to fund the most important and expensive projects.

Highway 82 through Snowmass Canyon and the T-REX project along the I-25 corridor are two projects that were paid for out of the 7th Pot. The Entrance to Aspen and 11 other 7th Pot projects never had money appropriated, so they are likely to carry over to the next round of transportation funding.

“Changes may be made to pare that list we submitted, but the unfunded 7th Pot projects appear likely to be untouched in the final cut,” Ireland said.

That means money for the Entrance to Aspen, U.S. 50 near Grand Junction and the Powers Boulevard bypass in Colorado Springs will be available in 2007, according to Transportation Commission documents.

“2007 seems like a long time from now, but with the environmental and planning work that’s required, it’s really not that long away,” Brown said.

New to the list of high-priority projects – and well-positioned for full funding – is RFTA’s proposal for a bus/rapid transit system.

When the legislature earmarked $15 billion for transportation earlier this spring, it required that 10 percent go to transit projects.

RFTA, the state’s second-largest public-transit system after the Denver area’s RTD, is the only transit system with a project on the funding list. Ireland said once he realized Democrats in the state Senate were going to require that some of the new transportation funding go to public transit, he notified RFTA officials.

RFTA and its consultants at OTAK in Carbondale then put together a proposal that calls for a variety of equipment and road improvements designed to make the system more efficient. If the environmental-impact studies for the bus/rapid transit system are completed later this or early next year as expected, RFTA will be in good position to receive some of the $1.5 billion for public-transit funding, Ireland said.

The Transportation Commission is expected to make a final recommendation to the state legislature later this summer.