LaHood breaks ground with guv

By Jason Kosena

LAKEWOOD — Continuing the string of visits by Cabinet-level secretaries to Colorado, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood came to Lakewood Tuesday afternoon to speak at the groundbreaking ceremony for the state’s latest highway stimulus project.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood speaks to attendees while Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-CD 7, and Gov. Ritter look watch the groundbreaking on a $32 million road project along C-470 in Lakewood.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

Flanked by three of the state’s top Democats — Congressional District 4 Rep. Betsy Markey, Congressional District 7 Rep. Ed Perlmutter and Gov. Bill Ritter — LaHood praised the $32 million project, which will repair parts of a 26-mile stretch of a bike path that runs along C-470 west of Denver and replace concrete slabs on a five-mile stretch of C-470 near Interstate 25 south of Denver.

The combined project is the largest endeavor funded by the stimulus package in Colorado since Obama signed the stimulus bill in Denver in February.

LaHood praised Markey and Perlmutter for supporting the stimulus package, calling them heroes in the fight to turn the slumping economy around.

“If it was not for their courageous votes, we would not be standing here today because we would not have this money,” LaHood said. “Your votes have made it possible for people in this part of the world to take advantage of expanded opportunities for recreation. I am really grateful to both of you for the very courageous vote that you both made.”

Ritter — who has attended several groundbreaking ceremonies for stimulus-package-funded road construction projects in recent weeks — said Colorado is using the federal funds, along with new state transportation revenue generated by the passage of FASTER this spring, to help create jobs and put the state on a more stable economic footing.

Don Hanneman, the owner of Castle Rock Construction Co., a contractor on the project, said the C-470 project is expected to save or create approximately 130 jobs.

“We believe the Recovery Act is the tidal mark where we began to reverse the (slumping economic) trend,” Ritter said. “Together, with the Recovery Act and with FASTER, we are also beginning to reverse the deterioration of our (transportation) system that we have experienced for way too long.”

The groundbreaking carried a special sentimental value for Perlmutter, an avid bicyclist. Perlmutter said he used to ride along the C-470 bike trail, but had to quit when it deteriorated. He now rides along the road next to the highway.

Gov. Bill Ritter, right, watches on as Rep. Betsy Markey tries her hand at breaking concrete with a jackhammer.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

“I love this (path) and the value it brings to the community,” Perlmutter said.

The stimulus package is funding many projects around the state, and Perlmutter’s CD 7 — where the C-470 bike path is situated — seems to be attracting more than its fair share. During the press conference, Perlmutter praised the four projects that have been approved so far, which are bringing $83 million into the district’s economy.

“They are a tremendous opportunity for our part of the world to get back on (economic) track,” he said.

Markey, who sits on the Congressional Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said she was impressed by the way Colorado has responded to the federal government’s call for shovel-ready projects, like the one along C-470, under the leadership of Ritter and Transportation Director Russ George.

Colorado has been visited by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan since the Obama administration took office in January.

Some believe Colorado has become such a popular destination because the administration considers it politically important on the national level — and because some Democratic members of its congressional delegation, primarily Markey and Sen. Michael Bennet, need a boost to get them through the campaign challenges they face in 2010.

Markey, however, had a simpler explanation when asked by The Colorado Statesman on Tuesday why she believes so many Cabinet members are coming to Colorado.

“Well, they are always out there and are making their rounds and getting out to a fair number of states,” said the first-term congresswoman from Fort Collins. “I don’t know if Colorado is unique in that sense.”

Then she paused and smiled.

“But one reason they might be coming out here is because the delegation asks them to,” she said with a laugh. “You don’t get much of anything if you don’t ask for it.”