The state hasn't yet approved money to build a new Interstate 70 interchange at 29 Road in Mesa County, but at least one needed planning and environmental study will be complete if and when that happens.

Mesa County commissioners on Monday approved a $400,000 contract with a Portland, Oregon-based engineering consulting firm — David Evans and Associates Inc. — to conduct a so-called 29 Road interchange planning and environmental linkage project.

That project, which amounts to a study, will help determine the feasibility of adding the interchange, and can be used to speed up the eventual National Environmental Policy Act process that is required before construction can begin.

The contract, half of which is being paid by the city of Grand Junction, stems from an agreement the city and county entered into last spring to get a preliminary environmental study done to kick-start the interchange project and extend 29 Road from Patterson Road north to the freeway.

The study, the first needed in the process to gather information that will be used to identify transportation issues and environmental concerns, is expected to be completed before the end of the year. The study is to examine the purpose and need for the interchange and road extension, determine the scope and size of the project and define a range of alternatives.

City and county officials have said the long-sought interchange could result in new economic development opportunities at the interstate and along 29 Road, not to mention alleviating traffic congestion.

State money for the project could be coming along soon, particularly now that the Colorado Legislature approved funneling $495 million in one-time money into statewide road projects during this year's legislative session, with a promise to allocate an additional $150 million next year.

Additionally, there are expected to be two ballot measures this fall calling either for dedicated money from a sales tax increase for roads and bridges or voter approval to issue transportation bonds.

If either proposal fails, a third measure has already been certified for the 2019 ballot calling for about $2.4 billion in bonds for road improvements.

Completion of the 29 Road also would put the finishing touches on a long-sought plan to connect the south end of the city at Riverside Parkway with the major east-west highway to the north.

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