Friday, March 14, 2008

Road Costs

Our View: Get ready for road costs
Sunday, March 2, 2008
Steamboat Pilot & TODAY
Editorial Board, January to April 2008
Bryna Larsen, publisher
Brent Boyer, editor
Mike Lawrence, city editor
Tom Ross, reporter
Noreen Moore, community representative
Tom Miller-Freutel, community representative
Contact the editorial board at (970) 871-4221 or Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

Steamboat Springs — The gaping lack of state transportation funding could not occur at a more poignant time for Routt County residents and demands a community-wide reassessment of how we plan to get around — and how we pay for infrastructure.

The numbers are startling. The Northwest Trans­portation Region of Routt, Moffat, Jackson, Grand and Rio Blanco counties is expected to receive only $23.5 million for highways between now and 2035.

That amount could fund less than 12 miles of road improvements, given that work on Colorado Highway 131 this summer could cost $2 million a mile.

“That’s not a new road … and that’s not even adding lanes,” said Routt County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush, who also is vice chairwoman of the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Northwest Transportation Planning Region.

Adding lanes is a need forecast for U.S. Highway 40 west of downtown Steamboat Springs. U.S. 40 is administered by CDOT and is seeing traffic that will get heavier as the Routt County population likely doubles by 2035.

Population growth is just one of many road-related tempests brewing in the Yampa Valley teapot. CDOT’s repaving of Lincoln Avenue, the city’s redesign of the downtown streetscape, the proposed Steamboat 700 development, the Colo. 131 work, and redevelopment at the base of Steamboat Ski Area all will reshape our travel in coming years.

“There’s just so many things converging at one time,” said Sandy Evans Hall, executive vice president of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association. “Our goal right now is gaining understanding and educating ourselves.”

To that end, the Chamber’s economic development committee is focusing this year’s Economic Summit on transportation. The summit is titled “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” and is tentatively scheduled for May 21 and 22 at the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel.

We applaud the choice of such a timely topic. A month ago in this space, we called on our legislators to ramp up efforts to secure transportation funding for Northwest Colorado. We now call upon local citizens to be part of the solution as well.

Use public transit. Walk on the Yampa River Core Trail rather than drive short trips downtown. Dust off the bike on sunny days.

And stay informed when the money proposals come up. Because they will. Whether it’s a statewide gas tax increase, larger vehicle registration fees to fund state highway maintenance or paid parking on Lincoln Avenue, alternative funding sources are surely looming down the road.

And it won’t be the first time.

In 2005, Colorado voters rejected Referendum D, which would have allowed the state to bond about $1.2 billion for highways and bridge repairs and other CDOT projects.

But even if approved, that money likely would have been a drop in the bucket compared to future funding needs. In a January report, the Colorado Trans­portation Finance and Implementation Panel projected a $155 billion transportation funding gap by 2030.

As Routt County experiences rapid growth and development, it will be up to us — not the state — to take care of our roads and maximize their use. Be a part of the solution.