Federal Funds Will Help Improve US 160 Mesa Verde Interchange and Corridor

August 25, 2011 - Southwestern Colorado/CDOT Region 5 - STATEWIDE - A project to improve the US 160 interchange to Mesa Verde National Park, as well as the US 160 corridor that services the area, is getting a substantial boost with federal funding.

The US 160 Mesa Verde Interchange Resurfacing and Improvement Project is set to receive $4.6 million in Public Lands Highway (PLH) Discretionary Funds from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The FHWA awards these funds through a nationwide competitive process.

The project is a high priority for the region, due to the highway’s poor condition and increased traffic in national park users. The project has been listed in CDOT’s Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) and was scheduled for construction sometime in 2014-2015. (The STIP identifies projects with the greatest need and allocates a combination of state and federal dollars for these projects.) The PLH funding will advance the project schedule to 2012.

“An investment in safe roads is good for business and good for the economy,” US Senator Mark Udall said.  “By investing in infrastructure maintenance and upgrades around Mesa Verde we are supporting the local tourism industry which is vital to Southwest Colorado’s economy.”

The US 160 Mesa Verde Interchange Resurfacing and Improvement Project will resurface the interchange, as well as an approximate five-mile section of US 160 east and west of the interchange.  Additional safety features along US 160 and the interchange include enhanced signage to increase visibility of the park entrance and improved shoulders so vehicles can safely pull off the highway.

“These much-needed repairs will improve the safety of this well-traveled highway and will help avoid more costly repairs in the future,” said U.S. Senator Michael Bennet. “A significant maintenance and safety upgrade will also provide a boost for Southwest Colorado, tourism and the local economy.”

The corridor was originally constructed in 1957, and the Mesa Verde interchange (at mile point 48.6) was constructed in 1972. The last resurfacing project along US 160 here occurred in 1997. This portion of US 160 is cracked, fatigued, oxidized, rough and in critical need of resurfacing to improve ride quality and protect motorist’s safety.

This section of US 160 is expected to be used even more heavily by tourists and visitors for access when Mesa Verde opens a $12 million visitor’s center in the spring of 2012. The park expects a 20 percent increase in annual visitors to 700,000 because of the new location of the visitor’s center, which will be directly adjacent to US 160, instead of 15 miles into the park.

“Highway US 160 is the only east to west route in southwestern Colorado and is critical to the local economy,” Representative Scott Tipton (CO-R) said. “It is used heavily for access to national sites, BLM land and tribal land. 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.”

In all, FHWA awarded $417.3 million in grants nationwide, but received $13 billion worth of grant requests, which is more than 30 times the funds available. Colorado is receiving a total of $15 million for 13 projects with funding going to CDOT and local agencies.

Congress created the discretionary grant programs to give FHWA the latitude to support projects that maintain the nation's 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 FHWA 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, FHWA awarded these funds through a competitive process.

A complete state-by-state list of this year's federal grant recipients is available online at: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/pressroom/fhwa1137/.