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Interstate 25 widening project north of Colorado Springs closer to reality after CDOT identifies project money

October 12, 2017 Updated: October 13, 2017 at 11:03 pm
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Southbound traffic begins to build on Interstate 25 Thursday afternoon, Oct. 12, 2017, just before exit 172 near Larkspur, Colo. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette).

Commuters, rejoice: The widening of the "Gap" is a step closer to reality.

The Colorado Department of Transportation has identified $250 million that, along with local contributions and federal grant money, could pay to broaden the stretch of Interstate 25 from Monument to Castle Rock.

The solution was found in a new state law, previously known as Senate Bill 267, which policymakers expect will generate about $1.8 billion for transportation needs over the next 20 years.

"This is absolutely a milestone for this project," El Paso County Commissioner Mark Waller said after commissioners' regular Tuesday meeting, where he shared the news. "I am confident that this is going to happen, and it's going to happen sooner rather than later."

El Paso County also will apply for a grant this fall from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Infrastructure For Rebuilding America program that could yield another $65 million for the project, Waller said.

CDOT previously estimated that widening the roughly 17-mile stretch from two lanes to three lanes in each direction would cost $290 million to $570 million, although state transportation officials are now pegging the price tag at about $350 million, said Region 2 Transportation Director Karen Rowe.

With the new proposal, along with two questions on the Nov. 7 ballot that could provide at least $16 million in local funds for the project, officials are getting closer to finalizing a plan to foot the hefty bill. Construction could begin by summer 2019, she said.

"I'm pretty excited with how fast it's going," Rowe said in an interview with The Gazette. "Everyone is coming together and working as a team."

CDOT has begun one federally-required environmental study for the project and will start work on another this fall.

The agency is also considering adding two toll lanes -- one in each direction -- to the Gap to help finance the project. Similar express lanes helped generate revenue to pay for the expansion of U.S. 36 from Denver to Boulder.

Since SB 267 was signed into a law in May, state transportation officials have been prioritizing projects for funding. Their recommendations, including the $250 million for the I-25 widening, will be presented to Colorado's Transportation Commission for approval next week.

But the commitment of the SB 267 money could depend on the federal funds, Rowe said. Even if the Transportation Commission approves the allocation, the money could still be spent elsewhere if the project is not awarded the U.S. DOT grant.

Transportation Commissioner Rocky Scott, whose district includes El Paso County, said the $250 million would be "enough to have a huge impact" on the project. He said he hopes his fellow commissioners will support CDOT staff's recommendation to allocate some of the money to the widening.

The new law will generate funding through the sale of state-owned buildings. Those proceeds will be used as bonds for projects, said CDOT spokeswoman Amy Ford. Some of the funds also will come from CDOT's budget, she added. The law requires that about 25 percent of the $1.8 billion generated by the policy goes to rural transportation projects and another 10 percent goes to transit, leaving about $1.2 billion for thoroughfares such as I-25.

Exactly how much local money is needed for the project remains a question, but Ford said governments along the stretch are on the right track.

The I-25 Gap Coalition, made up of regional and state leaders, began meeting over the summer to discuss how governments in El Paso and Douglas counties might contribute.

In the upcoming election, most El Paso County voters will have the chance to answer a question that would allow the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority to spend $10 million in surplus sales tax revenues on the project. In a second question, the county will ask voters' permission to retain about $14.5 million - including at least $6 million for the widening - in excess county revenues.

Waller is pushing for El Paso County to earmark another $9 million to the project through its regular budgeting process for 2018 and 2019. Public hearings will begin in November for next year's budget, which state law requires county commissioners to approve by mid-December.

More money for construction might come from Douglas County, although the allocations are far from being finalized and wouldn't be available until 2021. A preliminary budget, which will be presented to Douglas County commissioners on Friday, plans for $10 million to be awarded to the project from 2021 to 2022, said county spokeswoman Wendy Manitta Holmes. The document, a precursor to the county's annual budgeting process, notes that the allocations could change because of the availability of funds in the future.

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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