Save this content for laterSave this content on your device for later, even while offline Sign in with FacebookSign in with your Facebook account Close

Toll lane gets thumbs-down at meeting on I-25 "Gap" project

February 24, 2018 Updated: March 10, 2018 at 2:53 pm
0
Caption +
Looking north towards Castle Rock Thursday, Deceber 22, 2016 as heavy traffic moves along I-25 which is two lanes in each direction. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

The 50 people at Lewis-Palmer High School on Saturday were nearly unanimous on the Interstate 25 "Gap" project: no tolls.

The meeting was the first of its kind held by El Paso County commissioners. Colorado Department of Transportation had held eight in the past month for residents with questions, concerns or suggestions about the $350 million project to widen the Interstate 25 "Gap" from Monument to Castle Rock from two to three lanes in each direction.

CDOT's current plan - and one of the main points of contention at Saturday's meeting - is to charge drivers a toll for using the third express lane rather than keep all three lanes free.

"CDOT is presenting us a solution rather than options, and I don't know if our comments or desires are being considered," said El Paso County resident Dean Montel. "In the end, two congested lanes with an express lane only used by 10 percent of drivers means less safety to me."

Ann Howe, who is running to succeed Darryl Glenn as District 1 commissioner next year, described the state of frustration of citizens as at the "pitchfork stage," a reference to the angry mob armed with pitchforks in the film "Frankenstein."

"People are tired of being told what we want and what is good for them, which CDOT believes is tolls," she said. "At every listening meeting I've gone to, no one wants tolls."

CDOT has implemented express lanes on highways and interstates, which Executive Director Michael Lewis said have reduced travel time, increased safety and generated money the state can use for road maintenance.

Traffic flow is on average 29 percent faster on U.S. 36 between Denver and Boulder, for example, since the state put in the express lane in 2015.

However, some pointed out that doesn't accurately portray longer drive times and congestion in the free lanes.

"The density will move from the toll lane to the general lanes, so does that mean we're increasing safety and speed only for the express lane and decreasing it for the other lanes?" county Commissioner Stan VanderWerf asked. "We need CDOT to provide us with that information."

Lewis said it is unclear whether the inclusion of an express lane will make CDOT's application for a $65 million federal grant more competitive, which he said is "as hard as getting ... into Harvard," though necessary to supplement the $35 million in local tax dollars and $250 million in state allocations budgeted for the project.

"The (Trump) administration has expressed an interest in funding innovative solutions, and, though no one is in the heads of the Department of Transportation, we believe the express lane is innovative and can help our application," he said.

Commissioner Mark Waller was more confident.

"In a nutshell, the answer is yes," he said, explaining later that his answer was about a four-lane highway in each direction with three free lanes and a fourth toll lane.

Many people echoed his preference for a four-lane highway, but without a toll lane, saying that would avoid yet another round of securing funding, costly and lengthy environmental assessments required under the National Environmental Policy Act and construction delays.

"This project needed to be done 10 or 15 years ago," said Ed McGraw, who has lived in Colorado Springs for 29 years. "Now we're going to spend $350 million to revisit the project in 15 years. CDOT is being shortsighted in that decision."

The extra lane would add $150 million to the cost, Lewis said, which the state doesn't have.

"There are over $6 billion worth of priority projects in the state, the "Gap" included. Relative to the other needs across the state, four lanes is not needed now," he said. "Likely they will be in the future, probably 20 to 25 years."

CDOT plans to ensure all the bridges on the interstate are widened enough during this phase of construction to eventually fit a fourth lane.

Toward the end of the meeting, citizens and commissioners began to point the finger at the state Legislature.

"This is the top transportation project for the state, but there has been a failure by the leaders in Colorado to prioritize spending on roads," said county Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez. "We need to ask our governor and state Legislature why they can't put in another $100 million in the budget for much-needed transportation projects because this needs to get done."

The next public meeting on the I-25 widening project is expected to be held in March. A recording of Saturday's meeting will be available on the county website at www.elpasoco.com.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to say that Saturday's meeting was held by El Paso County commissioners, not Colorado Department of Transportation.

Register to the Colorado Springs Gazette
Incognito Mode Your browser is in Incognito mode

You vanished!

We welcome you to read all of our stories by signing into your account. If you don't have a subscription, please subscribe today for daily award winning journalism.

Register to the Colorado Springs Gazette
Subscribe to the Colorado Springs Gazette

It appears that you value local journalism. Thank you.

Subscribe today for unlimited digital access with 50% fewer ads for a faster browsing experience.

Already a Subscriber? LOGIN HERE

Wake up with today's top stories in your inbox

Wake up with today's top stories in your inbox

or
Already a print subscriber?
Already a digital subscriber?
 
This is your last FREE article for the month
This is your last FREE article for the month

Subscribe now and enjoy Unlimited Digital Access to Gazette.com

Only 99 cents for Unlimited Digital Access for 1 month
Then $2.31/week, billed monthly, cancel anytime
Already a print subscriber?
Already a digital subscriber?

 
You have reached your article limit for the month
You have reached your article limit for the month

We hope that you've enjoyed your complimentary access to Gazette.com

Only 99 cents for Unlimited Digital Access for 1 month
Then $2.31/week, billed monthly, cancel anytime
Already a print subscriber?
Already a digital subscriber?
 

Exclusive Subscriber Content

You read The Gazette because you care about your community and the local stories you can't find anywhere else.

Only 99 cents for Unlimited Digital Access for 1 month
Then $2.31/week, billed monthly, cancel anytime
Already a print subscriber? Get Access | Already a digital subscriber? Log In
 
articles remaining
×
Thank you for your interest in local journalism.
Gain unlimited access, 50% fewer ads and a faster browsing experience.