A future project to improve the Mesa Verde National Park U.S. 160 highway interchange recently received $4.6 million in Federal Highway Administration funds the largest federal highway grant awarded in Colorado this year.
Its a very competitive process, said Nancy Shanks, West Slope spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Transportation. Were very pleased to have gotten the award.
The award advances the project, which could start as soon as next spring, as opposed to 2014 or 2015 as originally planned.
Were trying to stay out of the way of the heavy tourist season, Shanks said.
Resurfacing will smooth out access to Mesa Verde, which has a $12.1 million, 24,000-square-foot visitors center under construction near the parks entrance.
Betty Lieurance, a management specialist for Mesa Verde, said the park is no stranger to construction delays after recent work on roads inside the park.
There might be some traffic delays if theyre closing down the on ramps and off ramps, Lieurance said. But after the traffic improvements weve seen in the park the last few years, Im not too concerned.
The project includes plans to resurface approximately five miles of highway connecting to the park entrance, as well as enhanced signs and improved shoulders, according to a written statement from the transportation department.
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, said Highway 160 is the only east-west highway in Southwest Colorado and is critical to the local economy.
It is used heavily for access to national sites, BLM (U.S. Bureau of Land Management) land and tribal land, Tipton said in a written statement. In addition, it is part of the spectacular San Juan Skyway, which boasts three designations as a National Forest Scenic Byway, a Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway and an All-American Road. It deserves this much-needed attention.
Shanks acknowledged the current rough conditions of the section of highway, and said it has been a priority of the transportation departments Statewide Transportation Improvement Program for some time.
Weve got a lot of priorities in the region right now, she said.
In all, the Federal Highway Administration awarded $417.3 million in grants nationwide, but received $13 billion worth of grant requests, which is more than 30 times the funds available, according to information from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Colorado is receiving a total of $15 million for 13 projects with funding going to the transportation department and local agencies.
Congress created the discretionary grant programs to give the administration the latitude to support projects that maintain the nations roads and bridges, improve roadway safety and make communities more livable.
In previous years, Congress designated some of this grant money for specific projects and the administration awarded the remainder through a competitive process. Because the Fiscal Year 2011 budget passed by Congress last April directed that all such funds be discretionary, the administration awarded these funds through a competitive process.
Reach Reid Wright at email@example.com.