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Colorado: Budget juggling to speed highway projects

New accounting system doesn’t solve state’s long-term transportation woes

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Highway projects in Colorado will get a boost from a new budgeting regime.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Colorado transportation officials say they will juggle their budgets to accelerate completion of transportation projects and create or sustain more than 10,500 jobs over five years.

Currently, CDOT does not advertise a project until all of the money is “in the bank,” which means the department is saving money for projects over multiple years before construction begins. In addition, some projects take several years to construct, so money often sits unspent when it could be used much sooner.

Under the new program, CDOT will fund multi-year projects based on year of expenditure, rather than saving for the full amount of a project before construction begins. This effort will match project expenditures with available revenues and allow CDOT to allocate an additional $300 million per year over five years to transportation projects over the next five years. Continue reading

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Gov. Ritter to sign wildlife crossing bill

A Bighorn sheep getting ready to cross U.S. Highway 6 near Arapahoe Basin ski area. PHOTO BY BOB BERWYN.

New law may reduce costly auto- animal collisions on state roads

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Transportation officials and conservation groups hope that when Gov. Bill Ritter signs a wildlife crossing bill this Wednesday in Vail, it will mark an important step toward reducing the costly carnage on state highways.

Although wildlife-crossing warning signs are already a familiar sight along highways, the new law will enable the Department of Transportation to reduce speed limits and increase fines for speeding in those areas.

I-70 and I-25 were excluded from the final version of the bill, but there are many other zones where the new law should help reduce the number of collisions, saving human and animal lives — and money, by reducing the amount of time state employees spend on removing animal carcasses and dealing with wrecks.

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Lawmakers to vote on highway wildlife crossing bill

A herd of bighorn sheep climb a steep slope after crossing U.S. Highway 6 near Arapahoe Basin ski area. PHOTO BY BOB BERWYN.

House Bill 1238 would identify wildlife crossing areas, reduce speed limits and up fines; new web site launched to educate drivers and get more information about crossing areas

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Traffic on I-70 may be an inconvenience for powder-loving skiers, but it’s a matter of life and death for the many animals that depend on habitat on either side of the highway for survival. Every year, thousands of animals are killed by cars, and the consequences for the drivers and passengers can be equally serious.

Between 1995 and 2005 there were 30,245 animal-vehicle collisions on Colorado’s roadways, according to the most recent statistics available from the Colorado Department of Transportation. Twenty nine of the crashes resulted in fatalities, 2,505 resulted in injuries and 27,7111 resulted in property damage.

Most of the collisions (79 percent) are with deer and elk (13 percent). The chances of hitting an animal during the next year are estimated at one in 163. According to the Center for Native Ecosystems, the number of wildlife-vehicle collisions more than doubled between 1998 to 2004.

Several groups, including CDOT, are working to reduce the number of collisions, and March 18, the Colorado Legislature can take an important step in this direction by voting for House Bill 1238 in a committee hearing.

The bill would identify wildlife crossing zones, reduce the speed limit in those areas and increase fines for speeders. Slowing traffic in areas where animals are known to cross highways gives drivers more time to react.

The Boulder-based Center for Native Ecosystems has an online petition in support of the bill. E-mail addresses and telephone numbers for state lawmakers are listed here.

The full text of the bill is posted in a Scribd.com window at the end of this article.

The average cost per collision (based on insurance claims) is $2,800. A national insurance group estimates that the total cost nationally for collisions with deer is about $1.1 billion in vehicle damage.

Highway managers and wildlife advocates are also trying to learn more about where animals cross highways. The coalition of groups launched a new web site last November that enables motorists to report wildlife specifically along I-70 between Golden and Glenwood Springs. Continue reading

More four-laning of Highway 9 planned for 2010-2011

Local officials say funding to complete the four-laning of Highway 9 between Farmer's Korner and Breckenridge is just a few steps away from final approval.

$8 million for Tiger Road to AGAPE section nearly certain in CDOT budget; Highway 91 and Silverthorne exchange improvements in planning phase, with an intriguing new design idea that could loosen the traffic knot at the busy junction. Please see the link at end of the story for a full explanation.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Travelers on Highway 9 in Summit County could soon be zipping along four lanes for the entire distance between Farmer’s Korner and Breckenridge.

Assistant County manager Thad Noll said the Colorado Department of Transportation is only two steps away from securing the $8 million needed to complete the widening of Highway 9 on the heavily traveled route. First, the State Transportation Advisory Committee, meeting Jan. 14, must approve the funds, and Noll said that approval is nearly certain.

“It looks like Region 1 will get the money to do the section from Tiger Road to AGAPE,” Noll said at a meeting of the Summit transit board Wednesday. If all goes as planned, the work should be done by the summer of 2011.

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Tunnel traffic down for December, up for the year

The all-time top-three single-day records for traffic through the Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnels were set in 2009.

Traffic through the tunnel is down for December but up for the year through the end of November

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Despite the recession — or maybe because of it — traffic through the Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnels increased once again this year. As of the end of November, the number of cars passing through the tunnel was well ahead of last year’s count.

Anecdotally, local officials say they’ve noticed an increase in the number of day-tripping visitors from the Front Range who drive up and back on the same day. The growth in day trippers appears to correspond with a decline in overnight stays, as shown by a decline of lodging tax revenues in towns like Frisco.

“For 2009, we’re 229,305 cars ahead of 2008, through the end of November,” said Gary Martin, who tracks the statistics for the Colorado Department of Transportation.

The total number of cars passing through the tunnel for the year-to-date stands at 10.76 million, he said. Continue reading

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