Plans to alleviate traffic on north Interstate 25 are moving forward but now call for another lane to be built.
The I-25 Coalition, which includes public officials and business representatives from nearly every northern Colorado community along I-25, has agreed to dedicate funding to construct a new lane for traffic that will serve as a toll road.
The Colorado Department of Transportation’s original proposal was to turn one of the existing lanes from Colo. 7 to Colo. 66 into a toll lane.
The I-25 expansion project received $90 million from a state grant, called the Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships, to construct another lane from 120th Avenue to Colo. 7 and conduct a study on continuing that lane north to Colo. 66, said Myron Hora, planning and environmental manager for CDOT Region 4.
Hora said $55 million will go toward the toll lane, and $35 million will be dedicated to developing a design and plan for how to get the road constructed north of Colo. 7.
Hora said constructing a new lane will not change CDOT’s overall plans for the corridor, but it will change how they move forward.
Mostly, he said it will push the project’s completion date out by a few years. Hora said he expects construction on the new lane to begin in 2016 and last until 2017.
Weld County commissioners objected to the original CDOT plan because they said it was unfair to the communities (Mead, Erie, Frederick, Firestone and Dacono) that invested taxpayer money and sacrificed other transportation projects to convert an existing lane into a toll road.
But Hora said CDOT always had plans to convert that third lane into a managed lane.
He said plans for a managed lane came out of a 2001 feasibility study, and elected officials at that point agreed to have the lane built to eventually turn it into an HOV lane.
“This wasn’t some kind of scheme we came up with,” Hora said of adding a managed lane.
Still, Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway said on Wednesday he and fellow commissioners are happy with the resolution not to take that lane away from public use, and they are happy with collaboration among so many northern Colorado communities.
Conway said the solution still doesn’t do anything for I-25 north of Colo. 7, which is a major concern as population grows and traffic increases every day.
But commissioners say they have had promising conversations with federal lawmakers.
U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., have vowed to fight for transportation funding in Colorado, including trying to secure funding for I-25 improvements in the reauthorization of the 2014 federal transportation bill.
And Conway said the board will meet with U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., next week.
CDOT hopes to use the new toll lane as incentive for a private investor who could then use the revenue to continue the lane north, Hora said.
Without private participation, CDOT officials have estimated the expansion project could take up to 75 years to complete.
Hora argued against the perception that toll lanes are a form of double taxation, saying tax money could otherwise be spent on endless public lane expansion projects as population continues to grow.
With predictions for the commute from Fort Collins to Denver to take up to 2.5 hours by 2035, Hora said toll lanes would guarantee motorists a shorter drive when they need to be somewhere on time.