Traffic volumes grow, but I-25 widening project is beyond local control 

The big squeeze

click to enlarge Widening I-25 could cost $270 million. - JOSEPH SOHM/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock.com
  • Widening I-25 could cost $270 million.

With the $113 million Interstate 25/Cimarron Interchange project a year from completion, efforts of local officials have turned to the next big thing in roadwork but have found themselves nearly powerless to do much about it.

That project is the widening of I-25 from Monument to Castle Rock.

Local elected officials, who comprise the board of the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments, only recently realized a critical factor: That 17-mile stretch doesn't lie within the PPACG planning area. Rather, it's the responsibility of the Denver Regional Council of Governments. "We have to convince another regional council that this is a priority," says El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark.

And it doesn't seem to be vital for DRCOG, which didn't respond to questions submitted by email.

Other funding possibilities include tolls or a recently proposed state debt measure.

Years ago, former Manitou Springs Mayor Marc Snyder says, he accompanied then-Mayor Steve Bach to Denver to lobby Gov. John Hickenlooper about widening I-25 from Colorado Springs to Monument. In March 2013, work began on that $66.4 million project, most of which came from the Colorado Department of Transportation, though the Federal Highway Administration and PPACG each pitched in $8 million. It was finished in November 2014.

Synder, who chaired PPACG's board in 2015, sees the widening of I-25 north of Monument as a CDOT responsibility: "I always felt we were at the mercy of the state. What we all realized was that the I-70 corridor seems to get all the attention."

The only progress on I-25 north of Monument is CDOT's commitment to spend $3.2 million on an environmental study, due in spring 2018, and use of its staff for some management, engineering and traffic analysis functions as part of the study, says CDOT spokesman Bob Wilson. How construction will be funded hasn't been decided, though Wilson noted there is "interest and willingness of local partners to help build support — and find funding."

Clark says a CDOT official cited a possible pricetag of $270 million, but she doesn't know if that's reliable.

The Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, funded with a 1 percent sales tax approved by voters, can't be used, she notes, because the project lies outside El Paso County.

"The question that came up is, is it a possible toll road? That might get it going quicker. How do you get it paid for if there's no money? We have to put all the options on the table."

On Oct. 5, state Reps. Dan Nordberg and Terri Carver issued a release saying the Transportation Legislative Review Committee has agreed to sponsor a bill that would authorize the state issuing $3.5 billion in debt to fund priority projects, including the Monument-to-Castle Rock widening. It would be repaid using existing state sales tax revenue. But even if approved during the next legislative session, the measure would have to go before voters, and a similar measure stalled in the Legislature last year.

Clark, who's chaired the PPACG board in the past and still is a member, says she doesn't know why the board wasn't advised long ago that the segment in question lies outside PPACG's jurisdiction.

"I think it's time for us to really discuss this with the folks in Denver and let them know it's an important issue for us," she says, noting the project was a key point during a recent leaders trip to Washington, D.C.

"It's going to take more than that," she says. "Last [PPACG] meeting [in September], at least we put it on our plan as a high priority and we can start using our ability to convince our state legislators and those in Douglas County and the Denver regional council. For those who travel I-25, it gets worse and worse.

"I don't know why it hasn't been on our radar until more recently."

And if pieces fell into place, construction could span at least a year.

As Snyder notes, "How crazy is it that the two largest cities in the state are not connected with a proper super-highway?"

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