El Paso County residents at Saturday's meeting on the Interstate 25 "Gap" widening project questioned if they are being heard by the state officials who will decide whether expansion includes a toll lane.
"There's a credibility problem here that the nonelected (Colorado Department of Transportation) officials who can't be bothered to make this meeting," said Patrick McIntire, a Colorado Springs native who is running for the state Senate District 11 seat. "We citizens know we have a problem, and it seems like CDOT is using the fact that we're desperate to try to . force a toll lane."
CDOT is proposing to expand I-25 from Monument to Castle Rock - known as the Gap because it remains two lanes in each direction while the rest of the Front Range highway has been widened to three or more lanes - by adding an express or toll lane in each direction.
The $350 million construction project would be paid for primarily with state transportation funds but also local funding and possibly a federal grant.
The decision on a toll lane, which has been met with stiff opposition from El Paso County residents and some officials, falls to the 11-member CDOT Transportation Commission appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper. El Paso, Fremont, Park and Teller counties are represented by Commissioner Rocky Scott, who has not attended the two public meetings held by the El Paso County commissioners.
CDOT representatives, including the preconstruction project manager John Hall, have attended both meetings held by the county.
"If these 11 unelected officials make this decision without our will, they need to hear us loud and clear," Commissioner Peggy Littleton said.
Commissioner Darryl Glenn suggested CDOT list the names of the commissioners on the board and their contact information in its presentations at public meetings.
Others called out Colorado Springs officials, saying they knew little of the mayor's and City Council member's positions on the express lane.
City Councilman Bill Murray criticized Mayor John Suthers, claiming Suthers told Hickenlooper at a meeting last week to "ignore objections to the toll road."
"While you're all here trying to get the El Paso County commissioners and CDOT to listen, there are other political decision-makers out there saying something else," he said.
In an email requesting comment Saturday, Suthers did not respond directly to Murray's accusation.
"I have told Governor Hickenlooper and others that I believe the vast majority of people in El Paso County would prefer three lanes, even if one is tolled, to the existing situation. That message is important if state and federal funding is conditioned on the third lane being a tolled lane," Suthers emailed The Gazette.
El Paso County commissioners said they planned to hold another public meeting on the Gap project at a later date.