Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway surprised many people at the NFRMPO meeting last week. The NFRMPO’s planning council oversees the federal and state transportation dollars that flow into Northern Colorado from gas tax revenues. Conway made a motion to take the entire $13.2 million STP (surface transportation program) budget available for the North Front Range area for the next 4 years and authorize it all for North I-25.
A few things in this proposal bear further explanation. First, to authorize is not the same as to appropriate. It’s a 2-step budgeting process. The federal government often authorizes spending but does not appropriate the funding that goes with the authorization. This means Congress gets PR for “approving” projects that in effect aren’t ever built because the money is never allocated. In the same vein, the MPO can authorize the funds but this is must be followed up with specific list of projects to appropriate the money.
It’s also important to remember that the latest estimate indicates that it will cost $965 million to add an additional lane to each side of I-25 from Highway 14 down to Highway 66. $13.2 sounds like a lot of money but it’s a drop in the bucket.
Finally, each local government has a voting representative on the NFRMPO. Each jurisdiction was poised to submit a list of projects it would like to fund using these same STP dollars. How likely is it that the other jurisdictions will enjoy being upstaged by Weld County and be willing to give up whatever other transportation projects they had budgeted in their jurisdiction for the next four years? It’s hard to say if and when the motion made by Conway, and approved by the entire council, will become additional lanes on I-25.
However, Weld County can keep its claim to fame as the local government making the most noise about I-25 funding. Conway’s proposal, which was issued as a news release before the NFRMPO meeting, did get a lot of press.