The disputed construction project along the stretch of Interstate 25 between Monument and Castle Rock will begin on Tuesday. Transportation officials said the improvements will alleviate congestion along this crowded corridor of narrow highway.
But the decision to place an estimated toll of $2.25 on the new lanes has been contentious. For those in a rush and with change to spare, this will provide an attractive alternative to sitting in traffic. Others say this imposes a financial burden on commuters with lower incomes.
An information session was held last week at Monument Academy Elementary School where citizens spoke directly with officials about the construction project. Representatives of the Colorado Department of Transportation and Kraemer North America, the construction company chosen for the project, were available to answer any questions.
Construction will begin on the north end of the corridor near Castle Rock and work its way south. Speeds will be reduced to 65 mph in work zones. Lane closures will be restricted to the evening and nighttime hours when traffic is lighter.
The $350 million project is expected to be completed by 2022, at which point the toll lane will be open for business. John Hall, CDOT’s resident engineer, said the toll could be increased during peak travel times when traffic is heavier to ensure that the toll lane doesn’t become congested.
“Adding this express lane will make this passage more reliable for those people who have emergencies or need to catch a flight on time,” Hall said.
Carpoolers with three or more people can use the toll lane for free. Those drivers with less than three occupants who attempt to use the carpool lane for free could be hit with a $250 fine.
The toll of $2.25 was determined after a tedious analysis of traffic volume and a survey of motorists who frequently use this stretch of interstate. But this number isn’t set in stone, explained CDOT spokesperson Tamara Rollison. More testing is required before the exact amount is decided upon, Rollison said.
The construction project will also include widened shoulders to accommodate emergency response vehicles and wildlife crossings. During times when the weather is severe or a major accident occurs, Rollison said the toll would be waved temporarily to give all drivers extra room.
Ann Howe is a resident of Monument and the founder of the Facebook group Fix I-25 NOW. Howe said the toll is her main objection to the project.
“The toll lane will only provide a reliable trip for those who can afford it,” she said. “All of us are paying taxes for this project. But the majority of us can’t afford to pay the toll. If you’re a working person trying to get to the airport or hospital, then this toll lane isn’t for you and that’s not fair. This toll lane caters only to the more affluent people.”
Some have proposed that the new lane should be toll free and open for everyone to use. CDOT representatives said doing so would defeat the purpose of providing a reliable alternative since such a lane would eventually become gridlocked.
Hall said a toll lane is the only way to ensure that commuters have a faster, traffic-free alternative.
Colorado Springs resident Tim Hershberger frequently drives to Denver on business. Hershberger said he wishes the lane were free for everyone. But he recognizes the convenience of adding a toll lane.
“We need this toll lane now,” he said. “So I’m OK with a toll lane if it means I’ll get where I’m going quickly. If you just made the new lane a general use lane that’s open to everyone, then you’d be backed up in three lanes instead of two. If I have an appointment, I like having the option to get into the express lane.”
Baldino Cisneros, a Colorado native who lives in Firestone, was opposed to using toll lanes at first. But after repeatedly getting stuck in traffic and watching the cars in the express lane fly by, Cisneros gave in and paid the toll for the convenience of bypassing the stop-and-go of his morning commute.
“I completely hated tolls at first,” he said. “But once I realized how much time and money it saves me, I warmed up to it.”
Vehicles will be equipped with transponders to monitor their passage through the toll lane. Drivers will be billed monthly.