State denies funds for County Road 5

RBC I It’s back to the drawing board for Rio Blanco County.
Or, perhaps more specifically, back to the wishing well.
The county was notified last week that its proposal to receive a slice of the financial pie available through Senate bill 232 (one-time state financial assistance to fund local government capital construction projects) was denied. The funds would have been used for safety improvements on County Road 5 — the main road through the energy-impacted Piceance Basin.
The Feb. 8 denial from the Colorado Department of Labor came as a surprise — and disappointment — to county officials.
“I was big-time shocked,” said David Morlan, county road and bridge director. “Everybody is shocked. It was awfully disappointing.”
And the need for improvements on County Road 5 certainly existed, Morlan said.
“As far as direct impact, nobody is more directly impacted than us, energy-wise,” he said.
The county asked the state for $9 million of the $17 million available, with a match of $2.6 million from the county’s impact fee funds.
“Then in the next three years, we committed impact fees of $6.3 million to get to that match money, which we thought was a helluva match,” Morlan said. “For a total of $17,900,00 that we would’ve had for the project. The money was there. That’s why we went for broke.”
The money would have been used to make safety improvements on County Road 5, which would have included redoing bridges and two major intersections and realigning a sharp corner between mile markers 11 and 12 “where all of our wrecks are happening,” Morlan said.
“It would’ve really got things rolling down there and got our safety needs taken care of, so we could start on the actual reconstruction of the road itself,” Morlan said.
The projects approved for funding were: A Parachute road interchange $8 million, Mesa County road overpass $3.2 million, La Plata County telecommunications infrastructure project $3 million, and a Delta alternative truck route $2.8 million.
“We felt with this money and the connection to federal mineral lease (funds), we certainly had the strongest connection of the finalist projects,” county commission chairman Ken Parsons of Rangely said. “We thought that would bode well for us. It looked to me like economic development was where the money went … with tough times you can kind of understand it. But it’s very disappointing for us.”
Of the 13 applications submitted for funding, Rio Blanco County was one of seven finalists. On Feb. 1, representatives from the county went to Denver to make a presentation before a DOLA panel.
“We got comments on what an excellent presentation and that it was by far the best,” Morlan said. “We sat through the other presentations and we thought ours was the best, too. We knew we wouldn’t get it all, but we thought at least we would come away with $2 or $3 million.”
Morlan and other members of what is called the County Road 5 Team were on hand for the presentation. The other team members who attended were Jeff Madison, county planning director; Van Pilaud, county engineer; and Kai Turner, county commissioner.
When asked for feedback, following the denial of the county’s request,” Morlan said he was told, “You need to get more energy input. But these matches are with energy money. What more can they give? All the money we were matching with were impact fees from energy.”
While disappointed in the state’s denial, the county isn’t giving up. Morlan said he will pursue federal dollars for the County Road 5 project.
“I think we’ll change the presentation a little bit and go after national federal funds,” Morlan said. “We’re working on trying to get a visit with (Sen. Mark) Udall, (Congressman John) Salazar and (Sen. Michael) Bennet. We’re going to try to get a time and sit down and show ’em our presentation.
“We’ve got to keep our head up,” Morlan said. “That impact down there (on County Road 5) is not going to go away. So we’ve got to find another way (to fund the road improvements). If we can get some federal funding, it will probably delay things until construction season of 2011.”
Commissioner Parsons added, “They are looking at a jobs bill coming out. There will be some things in there for transportation hopefully … so we can apply for some of that. We’ll continue to use impact fees as they accumulate to do part of the project. But we’d really like to leverage some grant funds if we could.”