March 1, 2014
A change in how the Colorado Department of Transportation manages its money might have put the $95 million Cimarron interchange project at risk.
The state has managed to come up with around $75 million for the Colorado Springs project, said Doug Lollar, CDOT program engineer for Region 2. Where the rest will come from, well, he's not sure.
"We know we have some funding challenges right now," Lollar said. "But I am quite optimistic that we are going to be able to work through all the funding sources we need to make this project whole. Right now, CDOT is going through business changes on how we fund and pay for construction projects."
If CDOT fails to come up with the funding, there are enough options to ensure that the project, much needed for the city of Colorado Springs and Teller and El Paso counties, will be completed, said Sallie Clark, El Paso county commissioner and board member for the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments.
There just might be a price tag attached.
CDOT, she said, "may be asking local agencies for an additional $18 million to finish Cimarron."
The project also could be built in phases, which would take longer to complete.
And it is possible that when bids come in for the design/build project, they may come in under the $95 million price.
"It's certainly disappointing that there is an $18 million shortfall," Clark said. "But I do think that we at the local level are committed to doing what we can. We just don't have that kind of set-aside in Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, or county road bridge or city funds, money that is just sitting and waiting. That's a lot of money to come up with."
At least a portion, if not all of the local match, could come from federal funding, Lollar said.
Clark, who was in Washington, D.C., for the National Association of Counties Legislative Conference, said one of the group's top priorities is to help pass a multiyear surface transportation bill that provides long-term funding for transportation infrastructure.
"Transportation funding is a major focus not just on the local level but national as well," she said.
The Cimarron/Interstate 25 interchange project was approved as part of the state's Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships Program in October.
The project allows CDOT to advance $300 million a year for five years to pay for projects, or $1.5 billion for projects statewide.
But instead of doling the funds out regionally as it has in the past, the department has developed a central fund for the money, Lollar said.
As a result, some of the funding that was earmarked for one region may be shifted to projects in other areas of the state.
"During the past year, we have taken a centralized approach to that funding," Lollar said.
The state is "looking at the broader picture and making sure we get the biggest bang for the buck so some of that funding has been centralized."
The funds, he said, are "going where the needs are."
Despite the shortfall, so far, the Cimarron interchange project is meeting its timelines, Lollar said.
The Transportation Department is "aggressively pursing a design/build contractor," he said.
That list will be trimmed to a final three, which will take up to three months.
Review of the proposals will take another three months or so.
"We anticipate awarding a contract around November, December or January 2015, so a contractor would start in very late winter of 2014 or spring of 2015," Lollar said.
A delay, he said, is unlikely because the project is in the early stages.
"The majority of the funding has been identified," he said. "Now it is simply a matter of finalizing the remaining portions of funds."
Still, the uncertainty is unsettling to local officials.
The interchange has been on the state's radar since 1971, and gaining the approval in 2013 was heralded as a major victory.
"At least it's moving in the right direction," Clark said. "I think it will get done, but I don't know what the time frame will be."