Who should pay for Garfield County road improvements?
July 30, 2009
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Garfield County’s elected leaders on Tuesday decided the county may have been wrong to require developers to cover all the costs of fixing up certain intersections that are falling apart due to growth.
The Board of County Commissioners, after two and a half hours of sporadic wrangling and a bit of horse-trading, concluded it’s time to consider reversing a long-standing policy of holding developers entirely responsible for certain kinds of road improvements projects.
The only concrete result of the decision, however, was to direct staff members to take the first steps toward updating the county’s Capital Improvements Plan (CIP), by starting the search for a consultant who can evaluate and revise the county’s 12-year old CIP; identify and rank those places where county roads meet state highways and are in need of substantial improvements; and come up with a proposed formula for the county to follow in deciding who pays, and how much, to accomplish those improvements.
Still to come will be decisions about exactly what the county’s role should be in making those improvements, and what part of the costs of improvements the county should pay. The problem is that those intersections have been neglected over the years, falling into a kind of regulatory limbo between state and county jurisdictions, and county officials feel there is some urgency to the matter.
In the meantime, the BOCC has directed its staff to begin the job of rounding up a group of private-sector “partners” to contribute to fixing up one particular intersection that has long vexed the county and the business community, where County Road 300 meets Colorado Highway 6, just west of Parachute.
The probable partners, officials have said, include a pipeline company, two railroad firms, two gravel pit owners, the owner of an industrial staging area and the owner of a compressor station for gas pipelines, as well as Garfield County.
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The lengthy debate on Tuesday began with a disagreement over the need for a consultant to evaluate county policies, as recommended by head county planner Fred Jarman, who bluntly told the BOCC, “I do not have the capacity to do this in-house. It is too complicated.”
Jarman has for months been recommending that the BOCC hire a consultant to look at ways to pay for upgrades to intersections where county roads meet state highways, which have been hard hit by residential growth, as well as a vast increase in industrial traffic and need potentially tens of millions of dollars in work.
Jarman did not mention the likelihood that, for his office to do a study of the kind he was recommending would severely hamper his ability to do his regular job, but Colorado Department of Transportation manger Dan Roussin did. He told the BOCC that, in his capacity of planning for state roads projects, he regularly resorts to consultants in order to get projects moving quickly and efficiently, and supported Jarman’s recommendation.
Commissioner John Martin, who preferred to handle each intersection on a case-by-case basis, pointed with derision to a 2005 study that recommended the county adopt impact fees for residential growth as well as gas drilling, but was never adopted.
“I don’t think it needs a great big study,” he said of the current situation, growing visibly more irritated as the meeting progressed and a consensus seemed to be forming against his views.
Commissioner Tresi Houpt said that the county has no new information about the intersections, the validity of county policies and other critical data – information that is needed to make decisions.
“We have a budget that’s going to take a huge hit in 2011,” she said, referring to predictions that the county’s revenues will drop precipitously due to the ongoing recession, although county finances are expected to hold at current levels for 2010.
Arguing from her belief that hard decisions are required in the roads discussion, but that the decisions must be based on current information, she told Martin, “It’s not responsible to just throw it to the wind.”
At one point Martin stalked out of the room while Houpt pressed on with her arguments, then returned somewhat later, after she had finished, to resume his seat at the table.
Ultimately it was commissioner Mike Samson who brought the discussion to a close, calling on Houpt to vote in favor of a plan to forge a “partnership” of public and private participants in paying the costs of fixing up the County Road 300 intersection, a plan favored by Martin.
In return, he won a reluctant favorable vote from Martin on Houpt’s proposal to hire a consultant to look at the broader, countywide issues.