Despite near unanimous opposition at meetings in El Paso County, the Colorado Department of Transportation is determined to go ahead with toll lanes if Interstate 25 is widened between Monument and Castle Rock.
About a dozen people reiterated Wednesday at another hearing on the proposed $350 million project that adding a toll lane in each direction to widen the road to six lanes in the 17-mile stretch known as "the Gap" would amount to double taxation and not ease traffic jams except for those who pay the toll.
CDOT has held a series of meetings and open houses related to the project over the past month. At each, residents have voiced the same objection: the state isn't listening when they say they don't want toll lanes.
"It seems like we keep hashing over the same thing," Monument resident Stephen Dupont told CDOT officials at the hearing at Liberty High School before a crowd of about 70 people. "It seems like all you guys do is have meetings, and it doesn't matter what us - the people - say. You've made up your mind."
"May I remind you that I don't work for you. You work for us," he added with applause from the audience.
The hearing was one of two that have been held since an environmental assessment was released April 27. The first hearing, at the Douglas County Fairgrounds in Castle Rock on Monday, drew only about 10 people.
At the start of Wednesday's hearing, a CDOT official repeated the agency's stance that adding toll lanes is the best solution because it ensures that drivers will always have an option that provides reliable travel times. CDOT has said that the so-called "Express Lanes," similar to those on U.S. 36 between Denver and Boulder, will also do more to reduce traffic on the highway in the next 30 years than a general purpose lane would.
CDOT spokeswoman Tamara Rollison said the design was developed through a "methodical process" that included gathering input from the public, coordinating with other governments and agencies and examining alternatives, including leaving the highway as-is and adding two general purpose lanes.
"The way we develop a project is not based on a popular vote," she said.
However, she said that CDOT is listening to residents' concerns.
"We are taking their comments into consideration," she said.
About 150 people have submitted formal comments on the environmental assessment since it was released, CDOT officials said. A team familiar with the project will review each comment and post responses to common questions or concerns online after the public comment period for the review closes on May 29, according to the agency.
Officials have said that construction could begin later this summer if all funding is secured. Local and state officials have identified funding sources, including state transportation funds that a new law is expected to generate and local contributions from Douglas and El Paso counties, but is still waiting to hear on the awarding of a $65 million federal grant. The U.S. Department of Transportation is expected to announce winners of the highly competitive award next month.
Other residents who testified at the hearing questioned why CDOT doesn't want to add two lanes in each direction - a toll and general purpose lane - widening it from four to eight lanes total.
Vickie Tonkins, a candidate for District 5 county commissioner, noted that CDOT will likely need to widen the highway again in the decades to come to accommodate for the explosive growth along the Front Range.
"Let's plan. Go ahead and put in a fourth lane," she told CDOT officials. "It's necessary for our growth."
Rollison said that CDOT has considered this option and determined that adding a third toll lane to each side of the highway is the best option to get the project done in the immediate future with the funding available.
Project Engineer John Hall estimated that adding a fourth lane to each side of the Gap would increase the cost by $100 million. Plus, CDOT would have to acquire more rights-of-way and conduct an additional environmental impact study, which would delay the start of the project, state officials say.