December 21, 2021

Infrastructure package funding to benefit Summit County transportation, wildfire prevention and water projects

With the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package signed into law, many Coloradans are eyeing funding to help maintain infrastructure that keeps the state running.

Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue said the bill is incredibly important for the county given its high amount of needs, including wildfire protection and water infrastructure. In particular, transportation is always in need of funding throughout the state, especially along the Interstate 70 mountain corridor that Summit County calls home.

While state-by-state allocations are still only estimates, Colorado is expected to receive $3.7 billion for highway projects, $225 million for bridge replacement and repairs, and $917 million to improve public transportation.

Congressman Joe Neguse said the hope is that this funding will help the Colorado Department of Transportation implement its prioritization schedule, a “good chunk” of which will include the I-70 and northern I-25 corridors.

“We’re going to continue to work with our local partners, county officials — the mayors in Breck, Frisco, Dillon and across the county — to ensure that Summit County receives its share of funding,” Neguse said. “Obviously, (it) couldn’t be more important in terms of the work that’s been done year after year on trying to repair and improve I-70.”

Neguse said it’s too early to know the specifics of what projects will be helped by the infrastructure bill funding and that most of these decisions will come from CDOT. While the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels have a lot of needed updates, Pogue said Exits 203 and 205 off I-70 are also a high priority for Summit County.

CDOT spokesperson Elise Thatcher said the organization is excited about the funding stimulus devoted to transportation.

“We will continue to work closely with our partners to smartly invest in Colorado’s infrastructure, while keeping Gov. (Jared) Polis’ goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions at the forefront of our minds,” Thatcher wrote in an email.

Thatcher noted that a large portion of the infrastructure funding slated for Colorado would typically be directed to the state’s highway funding. She said when it comes to “new” money in the funding package — which CDOT estimates to be between $700 million and $900 million — these resources will be directed to the completion of its 10-year plan of projects. CDOT’s 10-year plan which was last updated this month, is developed in conjunction with local communities to ensure priorities are met. Included in the plan is $30 million to improve Exit 203 in Frisco, where the highway meets Colorado Highway 9, but nothing to improve Exit 205 at Silverthorne and Dillon, which has been criticized locally.

Summit County and CDOT see eye to eye when it comes to prioritizing the Eisenhower Tunnel: Next in the 10-year plan is funding for a climbing lane that would go from Bakerville to the tunnel.

“Much like bridges, Colorado added tunnels to our existing enterprise as part of the state-level modernization passed as part of S.B. 260,” Thatcher wrote. “We had already identified $50 million for the most urgent repairs and upgrades to the Eisenhower Tunnel, and identifying funding for the next phases of that work will be a priority in the next planning cycle that we will undertake.”

Thatcher said Colorado will also have the opportunity to compete for expanded federal grants because of the infrastructure package.

“Thanks to the state-level transportation package passed earlier this year, Colorado should be especially competitive in our grant submissions, with the ability to identify matching funds more readily,” Thatcher said.

Colorado is also expected to get $35 million for wildfire recovery, as well, something Neguse personally advocated for. Neguse said this is “pivotal” for certain communities recovering from “devastating” wildfires last year.

Neguse said a lot of this money will go to fuel management through the U.S. Forest Service, particularly in the White River National Forest to benefit Summit County. Pogue also said wildfire mitigation has continued to be a priority of Summit County government and its voters.

“I think that’s going to go a long way in terms of helping us better build in some resiliency for the future,” Neguse said.

Pogue said Summit County’s water infrastructure is also in need of upgrading, something Neguse advocated for. He highlighted an additional line item of $300 million in the infrastructure bill for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program to help safeguard local water supplies to further support post-fire recovery work.

“We know a lot of our water districts have huge needs for upgrades to their infrastructure as it ages, and so I would identify that as another big need for Summit County,” Pogue said.

Neguse also said the infrastructure package extending the rural schools program — which sent Summit School District $891,110 in funding in 2019 — is critical.

“It’s really a critical revenue stream for school districts in that part of our community,” Neguse said.

By:  Lindsey Toomer
Source: Summit Daily