Officials in Routt County discuss transportation needs with state lawmakers |

Officials in Routt County discuss transportation needs with state lawmakers

A Thunderbird cruises down U.S. Highway 40 near Hilltop Parkway in Steamboat Springs. The Colorado Department of Transportation is researching the feasibility of Colorado drivers paying for every mile they drive instead of a gas tax at the pump.

— Officials here on Tuesday night told more than a dozen state lawmakers they realize traffic in Northwest Colorado is not nearly as heavy as it is on the Front Range but that shouldn’t slow down any of the funding this corner of the state receives to improve roads, bridges and runways.

"We may be small in numbers but big in impact," said Mike Mordi, the assistant director of Routt County’s Road and Bridge Department.

In a nearly two-hour long meeting in Centennial Hall with the state’s Transportation Legislation Review Committee, officials here talked about the projects on which they want to embark to improve the traveling experience for residents and visitors in one of the more isolated parts of the state.

Committee Chairman Max Tyler, D-Lakewood, kicked off the meeting by asking the officials to identify the top three projects they would tackle if they "had a magic wand."

Speakers came prepared with plenty of ideas ranging from wider shoulders to longer runways.

The city of Steamboat Springs was the most specific about what it would do with extra state dollars.

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City Manager Deb Hinsvark told the panel of lawmakers the city’s top three priorities are to secure state funding to improve the intersection of U.S. Highway 40 and Elk River Road, improve U.S. 40’s intersection with Downhill Drive and then more quickly extend the runway at Steamboat Springs Airport.

"To be honest, our airport is struggling," she said. "It’s not paying its way every year. It shows a little less activity and operations, and it has to do with our investment in an airport we can’t step away from that’s absolutely inadequate for today’s aircraft."

Hinsvark and Public Works Director Chuck Anderson told the panel a planned extension of the runway at the city’s airport recently was delayed by four years because of a squeeze on state and federal funding.

The delay will hamper the airport’s ability to grow, they said.

If funded, the city’s first identified priority may have the greatest potential to impact residents in the city.

Saying the TIC campus is about to go dark Oct. 1, Steamboat Springs City Council President Bart Kounovsky said it’s vital for Steamboat to find a way to improve its westernmost intersection near the 80,000-square-foot campus the national contracting firm is leaving behind.

He added the city has tried to fund the intersection upgrades internally but would like state help so the intersection could be improved as the city looks to "replace the economic driver we have lost" with TIC’s departure.

City Engineer Ben Beall said improvements to the intersection include a double left turn lane from Elk River Road onto U.S. 40, better timing of traffic signals and a pedestrian underpass.

The project is estimated to cost about $5.7 million.

The panel of lawmakers also heard from Yampa Valley Regional Airport Manager Dave Ruppel about the economic impact of the runway in Hayden and from community members who advocated for wider shoulders and other road improvements that would help accommodate agriculture-related traffic.

State Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, said the committee will take all the feedback it receives this week at several stops on the Western Slope and decide whether any of the requests should be the focus of any upcoming legislation.

The committee will travel to Grand Junction for its next meeting Wednesday.

The transportation meetings come as a group called MPACT64 weighs whether to pursue a ballot initiative that would seek $600 million for road repairs and construction via a statewide sales tax increase for a decade.

The Denver Post reported this week that the Colorado Department of Transportation would "probably net about $243 million" annually under the proposal.

CDOT Spokeswoman Amy Ford told the Post the funds would help to "fill a sorely needed gap in transportation funding" that totals about $800 million.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10.

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