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El Paso County OKs millions for widening of I-25 from Monument to Castle Rock

December 12, 2017 Updated: December 13, 2017 at 6:38 am
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El Paso County likely will contribute $15 million to the widening of Interstate 25 from Monument to Castle Rock, fulfilling the project's $35 million local fundraising goal.

The 2018 county budget, which commissioners approved unanimously on Tuesday, includes $7.5 million for the widening. The county also resolved to provide another $7.5 million for the project in the future.

Overall funding for the widening of the "I-25 Gap" isn't set in stone, but state and local officials now have identified the sources and amounts needed for the $350 million price tag. They're still waiting to hear back on $65 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which is expected to announce winners of a grant competition in the spring. If the project doesn't receive the federal award, state officials have said they will have to re-evaluate the plan to finance the project.

The Colorado Department of Transportation is proposing a pair of toll lanes - similar to the Express Lanes on U.S. 36 from Denver to Boulder - to widen the 18-mile stretch of I-25 from two to three lanes in each direction.

County Commissioner Mark Waller, who has led a push for local funding, hailed the allocation as a victory for the county at Tuesday's meeting. He said the funding resolution is a "head nod" that the county is committed to providing $15 million for the project - a sum he's been pushing for months.

"As a board, we have undoubtedly exercised the leadership this community needs to make sure that highway gets completed between Denver and Colorado Springs," he told fellow commissioners just before the resolution was passed. "We've been the driving force, I believe, to get that done."

County Chief Financial Officer Nicola Sapp said the $15 million mentioned in the resolution is not binding or final because the county would still have to allocate the additional $7.5 million through the regular budgeting process in years to come.

Several commissioners - along with residents who attended two recent public meetings on the project - have said they oppose using toll lanes to widen the highway.

State transportation officials examined other options, including peak period shoulder lanes and general purpose lanes, to expand the highway and concluded that tolls were the best option, according to CDOT.

Bob Wilson, a spokesman for the agency, said the plan to add Express Lanes to the Gap won't be finalized until the Federal Highway Administration signs off on the environmental assessment for the project, following a public hearing process in the spring.

The $7.5 million allocation for 2018 comes from excess government revenues that voters authorized when they approved County Issue 1A in November. A separate initiative passed in the election allows the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority to earmark $10 million in future sales tax revenue toward the project. Douglas County plans to chip in another $10 million.

The state would provide the bulk of the funding, or about $250 million, via a new state law that's expected to generate revenue through the sale of government-owned buildings.

The county's 2018 budget, totaling about $363 million, includes financial boosts for various departments. Here are some highlights:

-The Pretrial Services Program budget will increase from about $118,000 this year to about $418,000 next year. The hike aims to lessen overcrowding at the jail by clearing the way for more low-level, nonviolent offenders to be released on personal recognizance bonds, or written promises to appear. Pretrial Services helps the 4th Judicial District identify who's eligible for PR bonds. The county's program has been historically underfunded and understaffed compared to similar programs in the state. The extra money will be used to hire additional case management and intake staff.

-The Sheriff's Office will receive $100,000 for marijuana enforcement. Sheriff Bill Elder has said that there are more than 550 marijuana grow operations in the county that either are out of compliance or will be in violation when a change in state law takes effect Jan. 1. The money could be used for several purposes related to busting "illegal grows," including paying for protective gear for sheriff's officials, paying overtime to deputies working investigations, or buying an incinerator or storage unit for the marijuana that's confiscated from home grows, said Sheriff's Commander Joseph Roybal.

-El Paso County Public Health will get $25,000 to combat the spread of communicable diseases. Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez Jr. asked that a line item be added to the budget last week after the county's board of health shut down a non-profit's proposal to establish a local needle exchange.

-The Public Works Department will receive $7.5 million for local infrastructure projects. Some of that money will be spent on improvements to roads and intersections - such as South Academy Boulevard and Marksheffel Road and Meadowbrook Parkway - that were listed in County Issue 1A on the November ballot. Department Executive Director Jim Reid said he has not decided what other projects the money will go toward.

-The Community Services Department budget will be upped by $70,000 annually to hire a coordinator for the local Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, an advisory board made up of officials from the 4th Judicial District, area law enforcement agencies and other organizations.

-Commissioners opted to add about $300,000 to the county's 2018 reserve fund, raising it to about $2.8 million. The fund, used during emergencies, diminished after the Black Forest and Waldo Canyon fires and catastrophic flooding in El Paso County.

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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