Our View: Funding efforts crucial | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Funding efforts crucial

— President-elect Barack Obama’s economic stimulus plan offers hope to Northwest Colorado and its needed infrastructure improvements – if, and perhaps only if, local governments and local business leaders are quick to seize the opportunity.

Details about Obama’s plan are still sketchy, but the president-elect has outlined a package that would invest billions of dollars – perhaps $500 billion or more – toward the nation’s deteriorating highways and schools as well as an effort to expand broadband Internet access, make government buildings more energy-efficient and to modernize hospitals and medical offices.

Obama and Congressional lawmakers appear poised to have the stimulus bill ready for the president’s signature perhaps as early as Jan. 20 – his first day in office. Obama has said he has no intention of letting the money sit around.

The goal is to save or create as many as 2.5 million jobs while also making needed investments in critical elements of the nation’s physical and digital infrastructure. There’s no reason Routt County and the Northwest Colorado region, which now are feeling the effects of the nation’s slowdown and job loss, can’t put some of those stimulus dollars to good use.

Transportation projects perhaps are the most pressing regional need, with U.S. Highway 40 in and around downtown Steamboat Springs topping the list. The Colorado Department of Transportation planned to resurface U.S. 40 in downtown Steamboat next summer, but officials reported last month that the project could be put off for a year or more because of budget cuts. Colorado Highway 131 and a slew of Routt County roads also are in need of improvement, with little or no funding likely at the local or state levels.

There are other infrastructure projects our elected representatives at the state and federal levels should attempt to get funded, including water and wastewater system improvements in Steamboat Springs and Oak Creek. The city of Steamboat Springs’ five-year Capital Improvements Program details a number of other possibilities.

Although there’s skepticism about how much money will trickle down to the local level, there is not a “bridge to nowhere” among these projects. They are critical to our region’s future economic development.

Two good opportunities exist to assert these needs:

The first comes Tuesday, when U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar arrives in Steamboat Springs for a town hall meeting. Part of the meeting agenda is said to include Obama’s economic stimulus plan, and Steamboat Springs, Hayden, Oak Creek and Routt County officials would be wise to come prepared with a list of infrastructure projects needing funding – and an estimate of how many jobs each would create.

The second is to engage U.S. Rep. John Salazar, who just has been appointed to the powerful House Appropriations Committee – where details of the stimulus package will be determined.

There are many infrastructure needs in Routt County and Northwest Colorado, and there’s little hope in today’s economy of funding the vast majority of them through typical channels and budgets. The federal stimulus package provides a rare opportunity to go after one-time money that will have a long-term impact on the health of our communities. When the $500 billion or more is spent, we’ll either get a slice of the pie, or we won’t.

The only real failure would be not giving ourselves a seat at the table.

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