After a grassroots blitz and robust fundraising effort, county commissioners voted to fill in the remaining financial gap for the Highway 9 safety improvement project.
The project, spearheaded by the local Citizens for a Safe Highway 9 committee, will improve a 10-mile stretch of the highway with wildlife crossings, widening and realignments. The committee had until July 1 to raise 20 percent of the $46 million project, but found itself $3.07 million short by the county commissioner’s meeting on Tuesday, June 25.
Committee members and concerned residents implored commissioners to pledge the remaining support.
“You can’t put a price on life, and this is going to save lives,” said committee member Larry Lunceford.
Since 1993, there have been hundreds of accidents and 16 fatalities on the highway, which is a major corridor between Summit and Grand counties.
Committee member Perry Handyside labeled funding as the “rainy day.”
“Today is that rainy day we’ve been waiting for, that Grand County has been waiting for, today is the day we have to make that decision,” he said.
After listening to public comments, Commissioner Merrit Linke called the Highway 9 safety project an opportunity for commissioners to invest in the county’s future rather than an expense.
“It’s more to me than saving for a rainy day,” he said. “An investment implies a return on your money, where an expense is money out the window.”
The bulk of the project will be financed by CDOT’s Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance Partnerships program, or “RAMP,” but the programs requires local governments to raise 20 percent by the July 1 deadline to be considered.
Through grassroots fundraising, the committee secured $931,000 in pledges, a $4.9 million donation from Blue Valley Ranch and a $250,000 donation from Summit County.
“To me, this is a one-time chance to get it done,” said Commissioner Gary Bumgarner.
While Commissioner James Newberry called it an outstanding project, he took issue with its method of funding. It’s a state highway and the state’s responsibility to pay, he said.
“We’re being asked for $3 million from the county,” Newberry said. “You call it a rainy day fund, (but) there’s been a lot of sacrifice made to get the money we have, to pay off all the debt in this county.”
He pointed to other county projects needing funding, like the sliding Granby landfill and water quality concerns.
Newberry implored federal agencies like Colorado Parks and Wildlife to pony up more support, instead of leaving Grand County to fund a large bulk of the project.
After expressing his concerns, however, Newberry joined Linke and Bumgarner to cast his vote in support of the project.
“We need to have a unified front,” Newberry said. “We try to do that with this board of commissioners.”
The project now goes to CDOT for review. A decision is expected in September. If approved, construction will begin in 2014 and is expected to take two years. The RAMP program requires projects to be completed by 2017.
Reporter Leia Larsen can be reached at (970) 887-3334 ext. 19603.