By John Stroud
The state of Colorado is committed to keeping transportation improvement money allocated to Western Slope projects, such as the Grand Avenue Bridge, Gov. John Hickenlooper said during a local visit Wednesday.
The governor, in a meeting with the Post Independent editorial staff, responded to concerns raised by some local officials recently that, if the State Highway 82 bridge replacement project becomes delayed, the $60 million from the Colorado Bridge Enterprise now dedicated to the project could be siphoned off for Front Range needs.
"So far, I believe we have done a remarkable job of making sure we do fund Western Slope projects with these dollars," Hickenlooper said of the bridge fund, which uses part of the state motor vehicle fees that came with the 2009 FASTER legislation to repair and rebuild aging highway bridges around the state.
"We do have a commitment to make sure the money allocated in these out-state areas stays out state," Hickenlooper said.
The governor said he views Glenwood Springs as a destination in its own right. For that reason, it's important to make sure Highway 82, which also serves as a gateway to the Roaring Fork Valley and Aspen, is up to standards.
The 60-year-old Grand Avenue Bridge is slated for replacement beginning next year, and following a new alignment curving west to a new I-70 interchange near Sixth and Laurel streets.
The project is undergoing final design and engineering, as a required federal environmental assessment is also being completed.
Concerns have been raised by Glenwood Springs city and Garfield County officials that any delays in getting to a final bridge decision, now scheduled for February 2015, could derail the project.
Hickenlooper addressed a range of other issues during the meeting, including whether seismic testing around oil and gas injection wells in Weld County should be expanded to other areas, such as Garfield County.
While it's worth monitoring to see if there is a connection, Hickenlooper, a former oil and gas geologist, said the state has to be careful not to overreact.
"People have been using injection wells for a long time without any problems," he said of the technique used by oil and gas companies to dispose of water from the drilling process by pumping it back into the ground.
"A fair question to ask is why they're not recycling some of that water," Hickenlooper said.
On another geology-related topic, the governor also said he would support any state efforts to help the U.S. Geological Survey do more mapping of areas to determine where hazards exist for landslide activity following the deadly slide that occurred outside the small Mesa County town of Collbran in May.
One way the state could help is to involve geology students from the state's universities with that effort, the governor suggested.
Hickenlooper also met Wednesday with the board of directors for the Roaring Fork Business Resource Center to discuss ways to encourage economic development in Western Slope towns and throughout the state.
The governor said he personally benefitted from small business development services offered by organizations like the RFBRC when he first opened the Wynkoop Brewery and Brewpub in lower downtown Denver in 1988.
One way to market Colorado to would-be entrepreneurs is to use some of the money now spent for tourism marketing to attract businesses to the state.
"Statewide, if we can get more groups like yours doing what you are doing, the more we can make it easier for people to take that leap to establish an identity and a brand here," he said.
Another way the state is working to make it easier for businesses to start or relocate here has been to streamline some of the rules and regulations, Hickenlooper said.
On the Western Slope, the Colorado Department of Transportation is also about to complete its expansion of broadband infrastructure along I-70 through Glenwood Canyon.
"If businesses don't have to build that last mile of [fiber-optics], but just that last 100 feet, that will help you to attract new business," Hickenlooper said.
Creative industries, such as Meier Skis in Glenwood Springs, which Hickenlooper toured Wednesday, are a good example of the type of small business growth that's possible with start-up support from groups like the RFBRC, he said.