If a new toll road proposal wins the eventual approval of City Council, Colorado Springs motorists could take a turn onto a 33-mile road that would run along the city's eastern side. For 25 cents a mile, they would coast by downtown and Interstate 25 traffic, proponents say.
But there's a long way to go before this becomes reality, and some City Council members remain skeptical of the need for the road, a brainchild of local developer Lindsay Case.
Members of Case's Toll Road Partnership, in an informal meeting with City Council on Monday, won assurances that city staff would look into the feasibility of the project. They also pitched the idea of a public-private alliance between the city and the partnership, in which the private group would fund and operate the road, while the council and the county would help garner public support.
"We need the public communities to embrace this idea," says Eric Smith of Matrix Design, an engineering firm working on the toll road.
Council took no action on the public-private alliance, however. And Councilwoman Margaret Radford says the group wasn't clear about what it hopes to gain from a venture with the city.
"I still don't know what they want," she says. "Don't trifle with me. If you want something, tell me what it is."
Unlike the so-called "Super Slab," talk of which has stalled at the State House, this toll road would serve just the Colorado Springs area. It would stretch south along Powers Boulevard, from I-25 near North Gate Boulevard, and continue east along Woodmen Road. Snaking south along the planned Banning Lewis Parkway alignment, it would bend west along Bradley Road to South Powers Boulevard.
Most of the route actually will link pre-existing roads and roads already scheduled to be built by the city or developers. The Toll Road Partnership contends that it can build the roads faster and more efficiently with private funding. Under its plan, some pieces could open as soon as 2010. Otherwise, they could take decades to complete something the city acknowledges as well.
Smith says completing the road would cost $750 million. He will not disclose the road's revenue projection.
The group first appealed to Council three years ago, and received support to continue researching the road. But Radford, Tom Gallagher and Larry Small voiced skepticism at the second meeting. Though the city has slated many of the roads involved for improvement and construction, Radford is not sure of the immediate need for the eastern route.
"They are holding out the project as a problem-solver, and I want to know if it is," she says.
Radford also questions the involvement of the Colorado Department of Transportation in the toll road plan. CDOT representative Peggy Catlin has pledged support for the Toll Road Partnership. But Radford says that CDOT's approval might signal a wavering commitment to the city's transportation needs.
CDOT is responsible for funding future improvements to Powers Corridor, north of Woodmen Road. But if that portion is built as a toll road, Radford claims, CDOT may no longer be responsible for it.
"I am still wondering whether CDOT's motive isn't to reduce our requests on state money," she says.
Catlin says CDOT "would not reneg on its commitment" to work on Powers Boulevard. She adds, however, that CDOT does not have enough money to fund its projects throughout the state.