El Paso County commissioners unanimously passed an emergency resolution Tuesday, declaring their opposition to adding toll lanes to the Interstate 25 "Gap."
That action came the day The Gazette ran a front-page story on a Nov. 2 letter from the county, signed by board President Darryl Glenn and submitted with a $65 million federal grant application.
The letter said Express Lanes were part of the plan to widen the 18-mile stretch between Monument and Castle Rock from two to three lanes in each direction.
Glenn, who was interviewed Monday, assailed the story Tuesday. He said it failed to make it clear that county officials had no discretion over the application contents and were required to follow a template provided by the Colorado Department of Transportation.
"The application was submitted in accordance with the required format, but it's imperative for us to be very clear on where we stand," he said. "So any implication by The Gazette and their headlines and their reporter that somehow I've been untruthful or misled (the public), that is unacceptable, and that's why we're here today."
Glenn repeatedly pointed to a CDOT policy, cited in the resolution, that requires toll and other managed lanes to be "strongly considered" for highway expansions.
The policy, adopted by the state's Transportation Commission in 2012, does not require toll lanes but does require documentation if they aren't included.
Commissioners have said they oppose toll roads in the Gap because residents already have paid their share of construction costs.
Voters approved two ballot measures Nov. 7 that will provide the project with more than $16 million in regional sales tax collections and excess county revenues.
"The Board wishes to make it clear that the acknowledgement of the CDOT policy in the grant application documents does not in any way constitute an endorsement of the third lane managed toll configuration for the project," the resolution states.
It is to be ratified at the county board's meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday in Centennial Hall.
Amy Ford, a CDOT spokeswoman, said the grant proposal was developed through a CDOT-led collaborative process that included county staff and some commissioners, as well as representatives from other local governments. Much of it was written by a consultant team with input from those involved, she said.
County Engineer Jennifer Irvine wrote most of the grant application, said county spokesman Dave Rose.
The resolution passed Tuesday also says CDOT is considering other options for the Gap, including general purpose lanes.
But the letter and grant application cite only toll lanes for The Gap.
CDOT officials have said toll lanes are the best solution, but the agency still is gathering public input on them, and the decision won't be finalized until after the Federal Highway Administration approves the project proposal in the spring.
CDOT has not determined the price of the tolls, which would be used not for construction, but rather for maintenance and future improvements along the corridor.
On U.S. 36 between Denver and Boulder, and on Interstate 70 eastbound between Idaho Springs and Empire Junction, toll lanes have reduced traffic, according to CDOT research.
It remains unclear how the application for the highly competitive federal grant - a key piece of the project's funding - would be affected if the toll lanes were removed.
Ford said the U.S. Department of Transportation would be informed of any changes.
The U.S. DOT's press office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
The $350 million widening also would be financed with $35 million in local money - including $15 million from El Paso County - and $250 million from the state, mostly from sales of state-owned buildings.
CDOT officials have said crews could break ground on the project late next year if all the funding comes through.
A county resident told the commission last week that she felt the board misled the public by not mentioning toll lanes in two funding requests for the project on the Nov. 7 ballot.
The Gazette reported on her concern, the CDOT policy and Glenn's statement that the grant application was "boilerplate language" often used in such proposals.
Glenn called the story "irresponsible journalism" Tuesday.
"When you're looking at the headlines, instead of understanding all of the facts and bringing it all together, there is a segment of the population that wants to continue to miscontstrue and divide this community," he said.
Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108