TELLURIDE – As if the peace of mind that came with the completion of the Lawson Hill underpass in January and the safe passage it now affords to pedestrians and cyclists across the perilous intersection of Highway 145 with Society Drive wasn’t reward enough, the Colorado Lottery Commission acknowledged the significance of the project in an awards presentation at the Miramonte Building last week.
Lottery Community Relations Specialist Matt Robbins presented a Starburst Award to the three county commissioners and Open Space and Recreation staffer Kari Distefano acknowledging the underpass project, made possible in part thanks to a $300,000 grant from the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund funded by Colorado Lottery proceeds, for its excellence in the use of state lottery funds.
“The project is not only important to the county, but it’s really capturing the essence of what lottery funds can be used for,” said Robbins, indicating that projects that are eligible for the funding go far beyond the ballparks and playgrounds that most immediately come to mind.
“This project has benefited bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists, and has contributed greatly to the safety of the traveling public,” said Distefano, who is credited with making the project a reality.
Although the idea of an underground crossing at the location was conceived of, during the original planning of the Lawson Hill subdivision now home to 10 percent of the region’s residents, it wasn’t until Distefano took her current county position in 2002 that it was considered in earnest.
“I actually worked on the bike path between town and Society Drive so I always had it in my mind that [the path] needed to continue,” she said. “When I took the [county] job I started looking at possibilities.”
By 2008 the county commissioners were ready to sign off on the project, and construction began in the spring of 2009.
“It’s just such a huge accomplishment,” said Commissioner Joan May, praising Distefano’s hard work. “[Kari] just totally made it happen.”
Located just south of the busy intersection ranked by the Colorado Department of Transportation in 2008 as the third most dangerous in its Region 5, Williams Construction completed the $1.1 million project that added the underpass to the existing 25-mile Galloping Goose Trail that follows the historic route of the railroad through the region.
“Cyclists and pedestrians traveling from the town of Telluride to the Lawson Hill Subdivision faced a very dangerous four-lane highway.” said Abel Tapia, director of the Colorado Lottery, in a press release.
“With the completion of the Lawson Hill underpass, those travels are much safer.”
Starburst Award winners are chosen based on the creativity of the project, the economic and social impact to the community, and whether the project achieved its goal. The nominations are self-submitted, and are broken down by category to reflect the size of the community being served and the size of the project.
“It’s almost unfair to ask San Miguel County to compete against a city like Denver,” Robbins explained.
Twenty-three other projects across the state received the honors this year, including in Grand Junction, Fruita, Mesa County, Durango and Cortez.
Since its inception in 1982 the lottery has returned more than $2.2 billion in proceeds, helping pay for Colorado parks, recreation, open space, conservation, education and wildlife projects. San Miguel County has received more than $9.9 million in that time, Robbins said.
The project also received $140,000 in grants from both the Department of Local Affairs and the Colorado Department of Transportation, and $10,000 from the Town of Telluride.
“It’s something we could never have achieved by ourselves here,” say May. “To have a project of that scale happen here…we couldn’t have done it without the GOCO funding and Kari.”
Distefano said that putting in flush toilets at the Down Valley Park in Placerville is next on her agenda.
“I have an application into GOCO for that one,” she said.