Politics is sometimes called the art of the possible. Twice in recent months, the I-25 Gap Project has been the beneficiary of that potential. With considerable public pressure, substantial growth in the state budget forecast, and a tweak to public policy, the Colorado Department of Transportation found it possible to take two innovative steps. Now is the time for CDOT to extend its innovative run with a third step that is the definition of a win-win solution.
Let's start with the gains that have already been made and give credit where credit is due. First, in 2017 CDOT agreed to break with tradition and undertook the two required environmental studies simultaneously instead of the shopworn process of one after the other. That choice significantly shortened the required time frame and positioned us to have bulldozers on the Gap this fall. Thank you, CDOT. Second, economic growth has begun filling state coffers with greater than expected revenue and the authorization of certificates of participation last legislative session provided pathways to fund the project. Thank you, taxpayers.
Now, to the most interesting and potentially beneficial innovation yet: although current plans- still under development by CDOT - call for the road to be three lanes wide in each direction on opening day, the ribbon of highway envisioned is actually wide enough to be four lanes in each direction.
Interestingly, although tolling the third lane is almost universally and vigorously opposed (a position I share), the feedback I hear from the people of southern Colorado allows for a managed fourth lane as long as three general purpose (nontoll) lanes lay by its side.
When you combine engineering requirements with safety considerations and layer on piles of environmental regulation, state policy mandates and the inevitably onerous federal burden, things can be complicated. But given the collaborative and innovative progress on this project to date, the goal of four lanes in each direction is clearly within striking distance.
Getting to four lanes will require additional work and innovative thinking. But clearly defining and committing to an end goal of four lanes in each direction is the first requirement. Establishing some bright lines and clear expectations with deliverable dates that the public can rely on is the next step.
Sections of the Gap project are envisioned to be built and painted with stripes for four lanes on opening day. The north-bound climb up Monument Hill after the commercial truck weigh station will have four lanes on day one. CDOT and the Federal Highway Administration are discussing "striping" three other sections of the Gap for four lanes. In total, half the corridor on one side or the other is planned to be four lanes. These sections of highway would be passing lanes, extending climbing lanes or auxiliary lanes. But most importantly, they are all planned to be four lanes.
The key next step is for CDOT to clearly communicate that three general use lanes and one managed or express lane for a total of four lanes is the strategic policy goal for the Gap project and the date by which that reality is expected to be attained. Let's call it the Four Lane Strategic Plan.
Above, we discussed several elements of the Gap project that are in alignment with the Four Lane Strategic Plan. Those elements are part of the design and build effort underway known as the Construction Manager/General Manager (CM/GM) process. Using this strategic goal as the first filter on all planning and construction decisions being made by the CM/GM should become the working methodology for the project today and moving forward.
It is clear to me, the horsepower necessary to achieve this innovative solution is present in the combined effort of the people at work on the project. It has been my pleasure to engage in vigorous debate with engineers and leadership at CDOT, policymakers from across the state and the passionate thoughtful people of El Paso County. The county commissioners have gone above and beyond the call to advance the Gap project to the top of the state priority list and accelerated it by committing local dollars. This is especially notable given the fact that although southern Colorado will benefit from the project, very little lies in El Paso County.
We haven't settled for routine process or outcomes on the I-25 Gap project yet. Let's continue to think outside the box and build a four-lane solution to connect the two largest trade areas of Colorado that honors the art of the possible.
Paul Lundeen represents District 19 in the Colorado House of Representatives.