EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to include a response from the Colorado Department of Transportation.
More than a year after crews broke ground on the Interstate 25 widening from Monument to Castle Rock, El Paso County officials are weighing whether they will pony up the second half of their $15 million pledge because of continuing rancor toward the addition of toll lanes.
The county will kick in $7.5 million toward the $350 million widening project under an agreement with the Colorado Department of Transportation that county commissioners approved Thursday.
But past cost breakdowns have repeatedly shown the county’s share at $15 million, supplementing federal, state and other local funding. When county officials applied for a grant for the project in 2017, they acknowledged the planned contribution.
“It seems to me we made a commitment in the grant that no one saw. And yet, now we’re saying, we’ll fund $7.5 million,” County Commissioner Holly Williams said this week. “I do have grave concerns about whether or not we’re going to meet that agreement, and if we do not meet the agreement, what would be the unintended consequences of that.”
CDOT Director Matt Inzeo said the department "takes its community partnerships very seriously" and "will deal directly with the county regarding its commitments."
“El Paso County applied for and received a federal grant for this project, and the project budget included in the grant application itemized $15 million in county match," he said in an email.
The pair of toll lanes being added to the stretch of I-25 known as “The Gap,” widening it from two to three lanes in each direction between Monument Hill and Castle Rock, is expected to be completed in 2022.
The county could contribute “up to” $15 million under the terms of the agreement, but the board would have to approve any additional funding, said Senior Assistant County Attorney Lori Seago.
The agreement was approved unanimously with one commissioner, Cami Bremer, absent.
“We cannot let perfection be the enemy of the good in this circumstance,” said Mark Waller, president of the county commissioners. “Should El Paso County be paying for this? No, but it needs to get done. Should it have a toll lane? No, but it needs to get done.”
Commissioners have long said they don’t support the toll lanes because the tolls would amount to double taxation for residents whose tax dollars are paying for the project.
Yet the county’s fall 2017 grant application, including a letter signed by former County Commissioner President Darryl Glenn, called for toll lanes.
Some of the commissioners have also said that they weren’t aware that the project would include toll lanes when the funding plan took shape.
Even before the grant application was submitted, The Gazette reported that the toll lanes would be built when the state’s transportation commission decided to put forth $250 million for the widening.
Commissioners approved the initial $7.5 million for the project while budgeting for 2018 and, in a resolution, stated they intended to put more money toward the project in future years.
“The original agreement was up to $15 million if future funding is available. It was understood, as presented to me at that time, that $7.5 million was our commitment, and that anything above that was not a guarantee nor a promise of $15 million,” said Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez Jr.