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I-25 widening project from Monument to Castle Rock wins crucial federal funding

June 5, 2018 Updated: June 6, 2018 at 6:27 am
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Traffic commuters driving on I-25 Southbound get stuck in a traffic accident on Thursday Oct.12, 2017 just past Larkspur. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette).

The push to widen Interstate 25 from Monument to Castle Rock just got a $65 million federal boost, a key chunk of funding for the project.

The grant comes from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Infrastructure for Rebuilding America program, state transportation officials said Tuesday.

The Colorado Department of Transportation wants to add two toll lanes to "the Gap," a two-lane stretch of about 18 miles, widening it to three lanes in each direction.

CDOT also is getting $25 million from the feds to add an additional 12-mile shoulder lane on Interstate 70 in Clear Creek County.

'The Gap' plan from Monument to Castle has outraged some residents, who say toll lanes will only help those who pay the toll, and they'll amount to double taxation because local taxpayers already are contributing to the project.

Whether the grant will hinge on including toll lanes remains unclear. But it's a victory that means construction could start as soon as late summer, officials say.

"This is a great day for El Paso County," said county commissioner Mark Waller, who has pushed to accelerate the project. "I have always said that this project was going to get done no matter what, but I think this means that this project actually breaks ground later this year."

All funding sources now have been secured, including $35 million from El Paso and Douglas counties and $250 million to be generated through the sale of state-owned buildings, said CDOT spokeswoman Tamara Rollison.

The federal INFRA grant program is expected to provide $1.5 billion nationally to "help rebuild America's crumbling infrastructure," its website says. It's the Trump administration's version of the Obama-era FASTLANE program, one state transportation official has said.

U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, called the grant "a huge win for our entire region."

"As I've worked with the Trump Administration over the last several months, my number one priority has been to secure this extremely important opportunity," Lamborn said in a statement Tuesday. "I will continue working with this Administration to secure federal funding for Colorado's Fifth Congressional District."

El Paso County submitted the grant application in November, with a letter signed by county commission President Darryl Glenn that described adding two toll lanes but did not include alternatives.

Glenn has said the county was required to use a letter template dictated by CDOT, which has a policy saying toll lanes must be "strongly considered" for highway expansion projects.

Less than two months later, county commissioners approved an emergency resolution declaring their opposition to the toll lanes and saying the grant application "does not bind the board into accepting the INFRA grant if awarded."

But the county hasn't informed the U.S. DOT since that it opposes toll lanes, Waller said.

Whether the county could change its proposal to exclude toll lanes is unclear, though Waller said some wiggle room is likely.

"I'm confident that whatever this looks like, we are going to accept the requirements of the grant and utilize this money in order to get this project done," he said. "I think, from a public safety perspective, it's just too important not to do."

The county is "still working to iron out" the procedure to accept the grant, spokesman Matt Steiner said.

CDOT is unlikely to change its mind about toll lanes. In an environmental assessment released in April, CDOT reiterated that toll lanes are the best, most reliable option for drivers. Adding such lanes has reduced traffic on U.S. 36 between Denver and Boulder, according to CDOT research.

The environmental assessment will be completed with a "decision document" expected this month.

U.S. DOT officials couldn't say whether the proposal could exclude toll lanes, nor could they clarify the process to accept the grant. Federal law requires the DOT to wait three days after notifying Congress of the grant winners before publicly discussing the awards, a spokeswoman said.

Another Colorado project also will benefit from this round of INFRA awards. A $25 million grant is going to help build a 12-mile "peak period" toll lane on westbound Interstate 70 between Empire Junction and the Veterans Memorial Tunnels, CDOT reports.

"The public has made transportation a priority and through robust partnerships with local jurisdictions and other stakeholders, we will save lives and increase travel reliability by delivering these projects," CDOT Executive Director Mike Lewis said in a statement. "The Administration clearly sees the commitment of Coloradans to their transportation system and the innovative methods by which we are delivering critical projects."

Colorado's U.S. senators, Democrat Michael Bennet and Republican Cory Gardner, both submitted letters in October, supporting grants for the two projects, say news releases from their offices.

"Colorado's infrastructure requires significant investment to keep pace with the enormous growth of new residents and tourists," Bennet said in a statement. "These grants will help make improvements to the critical links Coloradans use every day to reach the high country and Southern Colorado."

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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