The $ 1T bipartisan infrastructure bill is now law. What can he do for Routt County?

Teams are installing Luminate broadband infrastructure in June in the Steamboat II neighborhood west of Steamboat Springs. The infrastructure bill signed by President Joe Biden on Monday will allocate $ 65 billion in funds to provide wider access to high-speed internet, including in Colorado.
John F. Russell / Steamboat Pilot & Today’s Archives

With a final price tag of $ 1,000 billion, President Joe Biden on Monday signed a long-awaited bipartisan infrastructure bill that some are calling the biggest such investment in a generation.

The bill included $ 110 billion for roads and bridges, $ 65 billion for broadband and $ 73 billion for power grid upgrades, though details are limited as to how the funds will be. allocated. Still, the passage of the bill has got local officials excited about how the money will go to Routt County.

“Communities, states, cities were waiting for this; economic developers have waited years, decades, to really see a serious investment in infrastructure, ”said John Bristol, director of economic development for the Steamboat Springs Chamber. “Overall, these dollars will flow through existing federal grant programs.”

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed 69-30 in the US Senate, with 19 Republican votes, and 228-206 in the US House of Representatives, with 13 Republican votes, although the compromise for Republican support reduced one much of the original expense. offers.

In total, this will bring about $ 3.7 billion to Colorado for roads, $ 225 million to replace bridges, $ 916 million to improve public transportation, $ 100 million for broadband, $ 688 million. for hydraulic infrastructure and $ 57 million for recharging electric vehicles, among others.

It is not yet clear how much of this will come specifically to Routt County, Bristol said. Much of the money is allocated through two avenues: a funding formula that takes into account population and road mileage, and through a competitive grant process, where communities at all levels compete for funding. .

Most of the plan’s expenses are spread over the next five years, so it will likely take some time before they are applied to local projects.

“I think there will be expectations across the country that we’re going to see massive projects unfold quickly, but that’s not necessarily the way government works,” Bristol said.

In general, Colorado infrastructure obtains a C rating from the Army Corps of Engineers.

Routt County oversees approximately 850 miles of roads, mostly unpaved, and 106 different bridges, not including major arteries under the jurisdiction of other entities.

“I think they do quite well on maintenance, but it’s still a challenge and the same goes for the city,” Bristol said.

Routt County Commissioner Tim Corrigan said one thing that comes to mind with infrastructure would be to cover more of the county’s gravel roads. Corrigan said that while the cost of maintaining a gravel road and a paved road is almost the same, it is the larger upfront costs that are difficult to afford.

“As local governments, we can do a really good job of figuring out how to take care of what we have,” Corrigan said. “It is this first initial cost that is the obstacle that we cannot overcome.”

Addressing climate resilience was another opportunity Corrigan said he saw in the infrastructure law. Corrigan wondered what kind of help they could get to electrify the county’s vehicle fleet. Part of the plan hopes to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles by spending money specifically on charging stations.

Megan Moore-Kemp, head of energy solutions at the Yampa Valley Electric Association, said that while they are still studying the details of the plan, they are excited about some of the opportunities for the charging stations and for making the electricity grid better. resilient.

The electric co-op has already installed stations on its campuses in Steamboat Springs and Craig, as well as in the town of Yampa, and it has applied for public funding to install more at Craig and on Yampa Street in Steamboat.

“We’re excited to really dig in and see how we can leverage it to help our communities,” Moore-Kemp said.

As with the county, the higher upfront costs are also a barrier for the town of Steamboat. Steamboat Transit director Jonathan Flint said there are several bigger capital expenditures to come he hopes the infrastructure plan could help.

This is the case for many rural transport agencies, Flint said, which has led to great competition for grants and, once awarded, the grants are likely to cover less expense.

“Most of our grants are 80% federal and 20% local. Sometimes they can only make a 50-50 subsidy, which creates more of a challenge with the local game, ”said Flint. “I think that will allow a lot of these real projects to move forward.

The buses purchased by the city – for around $ 700,000 – are expected to have a lifespan of 10 years. Flint said the bus is being refurbished to extend its lifespan by 10 years, which costs around $ 300,000 to $ 400,000.

“This is one of the big projects,” he said, referring to the replacement of four of the city’s buses from the early 2000s. “Getting federal help to buy these buses is really great for a company. small community like ours. “

Flint said he also hoped that part of Colorado’s $ 916 million for public transportation could help efforts to start a regional transportation authority, a project that has already received planning grants. Looking even further, Flint said he would eventually like to get fully electric buses for at least some of the routes.

One of those buses costs around $ 900,000, but Flint said storage and charging infrastructure would also be needed, making the change a significant financial commitment.

“The biggest advantage is that it allows us to do longer-term planning,” Flint said. “When you find yourself in situations where your funding for both capital and operations comes from the general fund, it makes it a bit more difficult to complete multi-year projects. “

There’s about $ 688 million in the plan for the water projects in Colorado, which has already been cited at county meetings as a potential funding source for two wastewater treatment projects in Phippsburg and Milner. The White House says the spending is aimed at ensuring all Americans have access to safe drinking water.

The town of Oak Creek is eyeing a hefty $ 13 million price tag when considering repairs to its drinking water supply, Sheriffs Reservoir.

“I’m really excited about the potential of Oak Creek to maybe be able to fix the sheriff’s tank problem, which is a much higher amount than anything we could ever generate here,” Corrigan said. .

The White House says the infrastructure law also hopes to connect every American to high-speed internet, sending Colorado $ 100 million to connect 85,000 residents who currently have no connectivity.

“Everyone needs a stable, reliable and affordable Internet to have a high quality life. For school, business, work, healthcare… it’s essential, ”said Moore-Kemp.

Moore-Kemp said that due to the track record of the Yampa Valley Electric Association and Luminate Broadband and the level of fiber optic internet they are installing, they are “well positioned to take advantage of this opportunity.”

Installing broadband in Northwest Colorado is particularly difficult due to the rugged terrain, which can make installation less cost effective for consumers and producers. This is why large funds for broadband are being created, and the investment in infrastructure is “a sign that the federal government views the Internet as an essential service,” Moore-Kemp said.

“We have already had the opportunity to successfully partner with local, state and federal entities to provide much needed broadband, and we have an excellent track record in this area,” she said. “We expect this historic investment to build on these successes.

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