TIGER grant road funding eludes Routt County

Monies would have allowed redesign of part of County Road 14

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— For the third and possibly final time, Routt County has been passed over for a $13.5 million federal highway grant that would have funded a redesign of a 5.2-mile portion of County Road 14 between Colorado Highway 131 and Stagecoach State Park.

“I really had hopes that this third time would be successful,” Commission Chairwoman Diane Mitsch Bush said Tuesday. “I don’t think we’ll see this type of program again. I hope I’m wrong.”

Given that the budget for the U.S. Department of Transportation already has been cut, Mitsch Bush said she isn’t counting on a fourth round of TIGER grants under President Obama’s American Jobs Act.

Routt County already has invested about $1.7 million in the C.R. 14 project, including $250,000 in design costs and $1.2 million to acquire additional rights-of-way from private property owners who live along the proposed new course of the road.

Mitsch Bush said she hopes the decision to go ahead and acquire the rights-of-way in 2011 will prove to have been wise when financial circumstances eventually make the project feasible.

“It’s never going to be cheaper” to acquire the land, she said.

Commissioner Doug Monger said it was hard to expend the $1.2 million on the rights-of-way but that the project they someday will facilitate is worthy.

“I was depressed at how much money it took to (acquire) little pieces of 44 different pieces of private property,” Monger said. “But this project, on the county road with second-heaviest traffic (to C.R. 129), deserves a placeholder in our capital plan.”

The stretch of road, which carries commuter traffic from Stagecoach to Steamboat as well as people destined for the state park, is notable for a couple of 90-degree turns.

The county had sweetened its TIGER application this time around by offering a $2 million grant match above the $500,000 already promised by the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, which owns Stagecoach Reservoir.

Monger and Mitsch Bush agreed that the rural projects across the country that were awarded grants in the most recent funding cycle were deserving and fit the criteria. Those projects include construction of a new port of entry for a community in northern Montana that receives heavy volumes of trucks hauling freight to and from the U.S. and Canada and the reconstruction and widening of a stretch of highway in the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming that has seen 42 injuries and five fatalities from traffic accidents in the past 10 years.

“There was a multimodal transportation criteria in the grant application, and we tried to meet that by demonstrating the wider shoulders would help the bicycle commuting,” Mitsch Bush said. “We also needed to show a link to jobs and the economy. They probably figured ours didn’t create as many jobs as some of the others.”

Monger said that during budget discussion, he and his fellow commissioners discussed the possibility that the road project someday could be tackled in phases similar to the way improvements were made to the passenger terminal at Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

Colorado was among 19 states that did not receive any funding under the latest round of the TIGER program, which awarded 46 grants totaling $511 million to 33 states. Of the total, $150 million went to rural areas, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Other projects on Colorado’s Western Slope that did not make the cut include highway interchanges in Eagle County and near Grand Junction.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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