A drive for improved roads
Former CDOT leader starts push for rural highway improvements
November 9, 2007
Craig — Dick Prosence, of Maybell, doesn’t like the drive on Highway 13, his town’s main roadway.
It’s not that the ride is boring.
The traffic has something to do with it.
But the main reason is the road is not safe.
After 26 years, Prosence retired from the Colorado Department of Transportation in 1982 as a district engineer for Northwest Colorado. In that position, Prosence was in charge of all construction and maintenance in the area.
He retired in part because of the agency’s inability to get state funding he thought it needed.
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“I was totally frustrated we were not getting any money at all except for the interstate system, and most of that was federal money for big projects like Vail Pass,” Prosence said.
The state must start spending money on modernizing its rural highway system, Prosence said. The roads are in almost the same shape they were 50 to 60 years ago, he added.
Northwest Colorado roads – single lane, with few passing lanes – have become more congested with traffic from the energy boom.
The absence of shoulders makes driving dangerous, Prosence added.
“We’re traveling on a lot of obsolete, unsafe highways,” he said. “If a person makes a small mistake on a highway like that, it can lead to a fatality or lots of injuries and damages.”
The state has done little to improve conditions, Prosence said.
“Highways have always been on the backburner,” he added. “We (CDOT) were always pleading for more money for highways.”
Chris Robbins is an administrative assistant for the CDOT public relations department. He backed up Prosence’s assessment.
The state has not used much of its own budget for highways, and U.S. congressmen have not been as successful bringing in federal dollars as other states, Robbins said.
“Historically, we’ve been really good at not bringing federal dollars to the state,” Robbins said.
CDOT’s budget is “almost 100 percent” funded by the Highway Users Tax Fund, a state tax fund that pays the department 22 cents per gallon of gas sold.
That fund is projected to drop in the future because of conservation efforts slowing gas consumption.
Rising fuel gas costs will not offset the loss, as the department gets a certain amount per gallon, not a percentage of the sale.
Other than that, the state does not usually mark general fund dollars for roads.
“There’s little help from the state unless there’s a surplus,” Robbins said.
What money the state does have, it uses mostly for highways in the urban centers, Prosence said.
The T-REX project in Denver is a $1.67 billion venture to renovate I-25, Colorado’s only north-south interstate highway.
The state passed a bond for the project, and the debt incurred on loans to pay for the bond keeps Colorado further away from affording rural projects, Prosence said.
Prosence would like a standard of 12-feet-wide lanes and 8-feet-wide shoulders for rural roads, as well as a standard for providing passing lanes no more than three miles apart.
Prosence estimated a rural highway modernization project might need about $100 million to $200 million per year as long as construction projects are necessary.
Updating Highway 13 from Maybell to Wyoming could take as much as $100 million by itself, he said.
Prosence acknowledged Colorado could use more money for a lot of things, such as education and health care, but said roads affect people everyday.
“Every program in this state need money, I think, but we have to weigh the impact on people (that roads have),” Prosence said.
A new state tax would be one sure way to fund the project, he said. A strong grass-roots campaign would be necessary to pass that statewide.
“This can happen if people rise up and demand it,” Prosence said. “It’s not possible unless people rise up in the rural areas and say we want modern highways.”
Gov. Bill Ritter has organized a Blue Ribbon Task Force to make recommendations for road maintenance and improvements.
CDOT plans to wait for its recommendations before lobbying for additional money or certain projects, said Dave Eller, one of two CDOT program engineers, whose area includes Moffat County.
The state recently designated Highway 13 a priority, and plans to widen traffic lanes and put in 4-feet-wide shoulders on a stretch south of Maybell.
CDOT is designing projects for Highway 13 from Craig to the Wyoming border, but won’t act on them until money becomes available, Eller said.
“We’ve identified Highway 13 as one priority,” Eller said. “It’s kind of a slow process right now with the amount of funding we have.
“When you look at the projected revenues for the future, it’s pretty bleak.”