After Colorado voters refused to increase sales taxes to fund transportation in November, the state is homing in on smaller priority road construction projects to address safety concerns.
The Colorado Department of Transportation must spend most of its funding on regular maintenance, leaving only $3.5 million to $3.7 million of annual discretionary spending for construction across 15 counties in Southwest Colorado, said Tony Cady, regional planning and environmental manager for the agency. The agency often seeks funding from different sources, such as grants for projects, but funding remains tight.
“We need to prioritize projects that are the worst sections for safety and mobility,” he said.
Cady explained CDOT’s approach to La Plata County commissioners Wednesday during a meeting to update the agency’s 10-year development plan.
CDOT is aware La Plata County residents are interested in widening and improving U.S. Highway 160 between Durango and Bayfield and U.S. Highway 550 from Durango to the New Mexico line. But instead of widening whole corridors in their entirety, CDOT plans smaller projects to address problem areas, Cady said.
For example, the agency could widen U.S. Highway 160 to add a center turn lane between Elmore’s Corner and County Road 225, east of Durango, to improve safety, Cady said. The project may include repairing and expanding the Florida River bridge and improving the intersection at County Road 225 with a traffic light or a roundabout, he said. It could cost about $30 million, Cady said.
CDOT may also widen Highway 160 to four lanes for about 2 miles at Dry Creek, about 5 miles east of Colorado Highway 172, also east of Durango. The $36 million project could include two wildlife underpasses, he said.
The agency does not have a timeline or funding for completing the projects, Cady said.
By designing projects, the agency would be prepared to apply for funding should it become available, he said. The smaller projects eliminate the need for CDOT to purchase rights of way along the whole corridor, which would be time-consuming, he said.
The list of priority projects for Southwest Colorado and the rest of the state could be finalized by the end of the year, Cady said.
Next year, CDOT’s funding could receive a boost if voters approve Proposition CC, a question on the November ballot that asks them to allow the state to keep all the tax dollars it collects.
Under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, state revenues must be refunded to residents if they increase faster than inflation and the growth of the population, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Proposition CC would divide the funds between public schools, higher education and transportation, according to the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office.
A tax increase for transportation could also appear on the 2021 budget, Cady said.
However, the long-term sources of funding for state transportation needs should be examined because Colorado relies heavily on gas taxes, said Steve Parker, former state transportation commissioner. Gas tax revenues are likely to decline as more people purchase electric vehicles, he said.
Cady agreed new revenue sources are needed.
“The gas tax hasn’t been sustainable in a long time, and it won’t be sustainable in the future,” Cady said.
To comment on CDOT’s 10-year plan, visit yourtransportationplan.metroquest.com.