Traffic flies down U.S. Highway 40 over the Elk River on Friday evening. State Highway Commissioner Kathy Connell, of Steamboat Springs, said Tuesday that declining state funds for highway projects will make it difficult for mountain communities to see repairs until new funding sources materialize.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Traffic flies down U.S. Highway 40 over the Elk River on Friday evening. State Highway Commissioner Kathy Connell, of Steamboat Springs, said Tuesday that declining state funds for highway projects will make it difficult for mountain communities to see repairs until new funding sources materialize.

Highway Commissioner Kathy Connell decries revenue crisis


Area roadwork

■ U.S. Highway 40 in Mount Harris Canyon: Motorists should expect one-lane, alternating traffic and 20 minute delays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays through July.

■ U.S. 40 on Muddy Pass: Motorists should expect one-lane, alternating traffic and possible delays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through April.

— State Highway Commissioner Kathy Connell, of Steamboat Springs, said Thursday that she’s feisty enough to press home on Front Range officials an important point about Western Slope highways. However, dwindling state funds for road maintenance and capital highway projects will make it difficult to steer a path to the future until new funding sources materialize.

Connell, a former Steamboat Springs City Council member, said Front Range government officials and her colleagues on the highway commission need to be reminded that the highways on the west side of the Continental Divide play a vital role in generating Colorado sales tax receipts.

“The Front Range needs numbers from us to help them understand the economic hit” the area will take if mountain road networks branching off the Interstate 70 west mountain corridor are allowed to decline, she said.

“About 30 percent of tourism and visitor spending in Colorado occurs in the mountain resort region,” Connell told an audience attending a Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association economic forum this week. “If tourists find it difficult to travel through the mountains, it will cost a lot of money in state sales taxes.”

Connell was appointed in June 2011 to represent Colorado Department of Transportation District 6 comprising Clear Creek, Gilpin, Grand, Jackson, Moffat, Rio Blanco and Routt counties.

She noted that a report titled “The State of Transportation in Colorado” that was released in March indicates that a 1 percent decline in tourism spending in the mountain resort region would translate into an annual loss of $25 million in business revenue.

All of the persuasive figures that tie general sales tax revenues to the quality of highways that serve mountain resort towns won’t matter if CDOT can’t find new revenue streams, Connell said.

She told her audience to expect future highway building and widening projects to include some form of toll roads — not necessarily tolls for entire highways but likely tolls for motorists who want to use fast lanes.

Ironically, one of the challenges for CDOT’s fiscal picture is the growing use of energy-efficient vehicles, Connell said.

CDOT’s budget depends on revenues from the state’s gasoline sales taxes, Connell said, and not only does Colorado have the country’s 18th-lowest gasoline taxes — which are a flat rate per gallon, not indexed to gasoline prices — but more efficient vehicles steadily are depressing those revenues, even as the number of automobiles on Colorado roads is increasing with the population.

And although fuel-efficient vehicles save their owners money on gasoline, the cars have a proportionate impact on the highways as gas guzzlers of a similar weight.

The state’s fuel tax has remained at 22 cents per gallon since 1991, according to the state of transportation report.

Connell said that construction costs rise annually and that Colorado needs voters to adjust the state’s fuel tax to account for that inflation if it is to have a chance to maintain Colorado’s road system.

“CDOT’s budget has decreased by 30 percent from 2007 to 2012. It’s declining, and we’re not even keeping up with maintenance. CDOT is no longer able to deliver the same level of improvement as it did decades ago,” Connell said.

Connell has been in the property management field for 25 years, and she was deeply affected throughout the years by the deaths of three employees in highway accidents. The most recent was the loss of a longtime employee in a rockfall in Mount Harris Canyon along U.S. Highway 40 west of Steamboat, where CDOT is working to make the stretch of highway between Milner and Yampa Valley Regional Airport safer.

She acknowledged that when she went to her first meeting as a highway commissioner, she was pretty fired up to get something done about the hazard on the highway west of Steamboat.

But among the many things she has learned recently about the Colorado Department of Transportation’s challenges is that the dangerous stretch of highway here is just one of 750 rockfall sites statewide.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email


mark hartless 4 years, 11 months ago

If revenues are so tight why doesn't she ask C DOT why they are gonna spend north of $6 million replacing the bridge in the very picture above when it is not needed?

The current bridge would be fine for another decade... maybe two. It held up fine during last years all-time record flooding.


Fred Duckels 4 years, 11 months ago

Kathy has the right idea, it takes a squeaky wheel to get CDOT's attention. In lean times the silent majority is just that.

One problem is that the highway trust fund has been siphoned by do gooders for all the PC projects like mass transit and other amenities such as pedestrian and bike projects. They are nice but carry less that two percent of the traffic. In the Denver area the light rail consumes about half of the revenue and contributes next to zilch. Good highways are definitely good for busines and tax collection but in our midst we have those that are rooting for the opposite result.

I believe that the Mt Harris funds are coming from FASTER which is the increase in vehicle registrations, but much of this money is siphoned off for hybrid busses and such.

Mark, The Elk River Bridge is part of a program started about 1985 to replace aging bridges after a collapse on the Ohio River. Most of the funds are from the Feds and the budget number is high. Believe me CDOT gets good prices on their work.


mark hartless 4 years, 11 months ago

Fred, I was informed several months ago about the origin of the bridge funds and how it is allocated only for the bridge. I understand the explanation I was given, which indicated the decision was perhaps out of Kathy's hands or that it was a "take it or leave it" proposition from the feds. However, I do not agree with the concept, nor do I think many taxpayers would. Tax-money is tax-money. Nobody sent in their tax check last week with a note saying "use this only for bridges and not for rockfall mitigation" or "Please use my tax-money for guardrails but not for bridges". For federal or state highway funds to have such limitations on them hurts taxpayers in the long run. I am not accusing CDOT of being wasteful. Frankly, I think they do a heck of a good job. To the extent that my previous statement sounded that way, I apologize to CDOT and Kathy. That was not my point I simply think taxpayers funds (federal, state and local) should be used in a manner resembling triage where the greatest, most dire needs are met FIRST. This is not what is happening with this bridge project, in my opinion. I completely agree with your statement of how funds which are now needed for meaningful highway projects have been squandered on fluff. I also agree that good highways are an essential part of the regional economy and I believe they should take precedent over a lot of the superfluous projects that get funded. While I think there are more pressing needs in our area than replacing a completely adequate bridge, I too would rather see the new bridge than a fleet of hybrid busses or a Simpsons-style monorail, etc


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