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Colorado Springs-area transporation agency to ask for voter approval to use $10M for I-25 'Gap' widening

August 9, 2017 Updated: August 11, 2017 at 5:31 pm
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Looking north towards Castle Rock Thursday, Deceber 22, 2016 as heavy traffic moves along I-25 which is two lanes in each direction. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

Voters will decide in November if $10 million in regional transportation tax revenues will pay a small portion of the price to widen Interstate 25 from Monument to Castle Rock.

The Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority Board of Directors voted Wednesday to put a question on the Nov. 7 election ballot that would add the widening of the so-called "Gap" to a list of projects that the agency can fund.

If approved, the PPRTA will foot a small fraction of the total cost, which state transportation officials estimate at $290 to $570 million. The $10 million would be set aside and, if other funding sources were identified, spent on the roughly two-mile stretch of the Gap in El Paso County.

Proponents of the measure hope a pledge of regional funds will encourage similar contributions from other local governments and make the project more appealing for federal and state dollars.

"This is a huge step forward to get this on the ballot," said El Paso County Commissioner Mark Waller, vice chairman of the PPRTA board of directors. "In order for us to be able to really make the case to the state and the federal government, it needs to be a collaborative effort."

Not everyone in the county will get to vote on the proposal, only those living in unincorporated areas and the cities and towns that make up the transportation agency.

The PPRTA, which was voted into existence in 2004, is funded by a 1 percent sales tax collected in Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, El Paso County, Green Mountain Falls, and, as of 2009, Ramah. Last year, the agency collected revenues about $6 million in excess of its roughly $89 million budget.

State and local leaders have so far been unsuccessful in identifying other sources of funding for the widening, which state transportation officials say could be finished by 2021 if the money is available. Two federally-required environmental planning studies, paid for by money originally earmarked for the C-470 Express Lane, are currently under way, said Colorado Department of Transportation Spokesman Bob Wilson.

CDOT hopes to find some contributors by the end of the year, Wilson said. Federal grants or state funds are two possibilities. In May, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law a measure that's expected to generate about $1.9 billion for transportation improvements. But what projects that money will finance remains a question, Wilson said.

The I-25 Gap Coalition, made up of state officials and local leaders from communities along the roughly 17-mile two-lane stretch of road, met for the first time in June to explore options to speed the widening.

County voters might have the chance to approve another source of funding for the project. Commissioners are weighing their options for what to do with roughly $15 million in excess tax revenue. Colorado's Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, or TABOR, limits annual growth of some local government tax revenue and requires the surplus be returned to taxpayers or used for voter-approved purposes.

Waller hopes another ballot question will ask voters if some of the county's revenue surplus - he's pushing for $7.5 million - should go toward the I-25 widening. Commissioners have until Sept 8 to add issues to the ballot and finalize language.

If voters OK the PPRTA measure, $5 million would be taken from revenues that exceed the agency's budget each year for two years. Because the money would only be drawn from surplus funds, the deduction would not adversely affect the progress of other PPRTA projects, Waller said.

In addition to voter approval of the ballot question, all five PPRTA member governments must consent to amending an agreement that stipulates how agency revenues can be spent. The governing body of each entity - such as the Board of El Paso County Commissioners or the Colorado Springs City Council - must approve it by a two-thirds majority to do so.

"Taking this to the voters shows consensus and solidarity and support," said Jim Godfrey, chairman of the PPRTA Citizen Advisory Committee, which unanimously favored adding the issue to the ballot. "It would be hard for the state to ignore if we put money up against it."

Board members voted 6 to 1 to put the measure on the ballot. Colorado Springs City Councilmember Yolanda Avila abstained and several other board members and alternates were absent and excused.

"I'd like to see that money go back into projects that are sorely needed for sidewalks and roads and bridges," Avila said after the meeting. "I just want to make sure we're taking care of the local needs."

The Denver Post contributed to this article.

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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