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$ help for I-25 'gap' sought from voters in two November ballot questions

       Up to $16 million for the I-25 “gap” - where it's just two lanes each way from Monument to Castle Rock - would become available if two ballot questions pass in the Nov. 7 county election.
       Question 1A is proposed by El Paso County, and Question 5B by the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA).
During an earlier stage of the Cimarron/I-25 interchange project in 2016, a worker stands in the foreground, while in the background can be seen the early grading for what has since become the new interstate bridge and southbound off-ramp. About $9 million in local funds contributed to the project's $113 million cost; two county-wide ballot questions in November are asking voters to back matching funds of a similar kind to help prioritize and pay for the I-25 lane "gap" north of Monument.
Westside Pioneer file photo

       Both will be on the ballot that Westside voters get in the mail in mid-October.
       Neither ballot question asks for new or increased taxes.
       1A seeks voter approval to keep $14.5 million in county property tax collections that exceeded the TABOR cap in 2016. If the money were refunded to property owners, as otherwise required by law, it would amount to “approximately $40 for a typical single-family home valued at $250,000,” according to the 1A ballot wording.
       Local elected officials say that because numerous residents here commute to Denver, widening the gap to three lanes each way is a local concern. A 2½-mile segment of it, between Monument's Highway 105 and County Line Road, is in El Paso County.
       1A does not earmark an exact amount to be spent on what it describes as the “I-25 corridor gap local share.” However, the ballot does state that it and “other roadway safety and improvement projects” would receive $12 million of the $14.5 million TABOR excess. A county press release elaborates that the intent is to use half the $12 million on the gap and half on the other projects.
      
Stan VanderWerf, who has been District 3 county commissioner since January, is also on the board of the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority.
Courtesy photo
The remaining $2.5 million from the excess would go to parks and trails projects ($1.5 million) and flood repair/mitigation ($1 million to match about $4 million from state and federal sources), the press release adds.
       The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has not yet drawn up a plan to widen the entire I-25 gap to three lanes each way, but cost estimates range from $300 million to $600 million, District 3 County Commissioner Stan VanderWerf said in a recent interview.
       Question 5B states that the list of RTA projects would be amended to include I-25's Highway 105/County Line gap segment “in an amount not to exceed” $10 million.
       It's phrased that way, according to RTA board secretary Rick Sonnenburg, because the RTA's scope is limited to El Paso County; also, the money available depends on how much is collected by the RTA sales tax. It's a penny on the dollar, and .55 percent of it goes for capital improvements.
       Though not stated in the ballot question, the RTA board's intended time frame to accumulate the gap funds are 2018 and 2019, Sonnenburg said. Revenues from the tax have exceeded projections in recent years, so board members believe that's achievable. However, he cautioned, an unexpected economic downturn could lower expectations.
       An additional request of voters in Question 1A is to designate 2017 - which has been strong financially - as the county's revenue “base” year, going forward.
       That proposal, along with the above-noted 2016 revenue request, does not mean that the county is trying to “de-TABOR,” VanderWerf emphasized, asserting that all five commissioners support that law.
       TABOR is an acronym for Taxpayer Bill of Rights. A 25-year-old amendment to the Colorado Constitution, its mandates include voter approval of new or increased taxes.
       However, VanderWerf asserted that TABOR includes a flaw, sometimes called a “ratchet effect,” that prevents government budgets from recovering quickly after economic downturns, because the amount of revenues that can be retained without going to voters is limited to inflation and population increases.
       Under the commissioners' plan, moving TABOR's base year up to a successful year like 2017 will let the county keep more of the tax money it collects in the years ahead.
I-25 all the way through Colorado Springs was widened to three lanes in the Colorado Department of Transportation's COSMIX project between 2005 and 2007. This was the view of interstate traffic looking south from the Bijou/I-25 bridge Dec. 19, 2007 - the first day that all the cones and barriers were removed.
Westside Pioneer file photo

       “These are excess funds that we are asking citizens to let us invest in infrastructure,” VanderWerf said in a prepared statement. “During hard times when revenues were down, the county deferred infrastructure maintenance projects, so now we really need to get to work on [them] when the economy is strong.”
       VanderWerf's District 3 covers southwestern El Paso County, including the Westside.
       Offering local funds for interstate work is a fairly new phenomenon. In the past, CDOT needed only state and federal funds. But in recent times, with tighter funding, CDOT has tended to prioritize projects around the state where the local “political will” is proven by the allocation of local dollars.
       Such arrangements are “today's reality,” said VanderWerf, who is also a member of the RTA board (consisting of elected officials from participating governments in the county).
       A recent area example of helping CDOT is the $113 million Cimarron/I-25 interchange project, in which about $8 million dollars were invested by Colorado Springs and El Paso County.
       For the I-25 gap, El Paso County and the RTA are the only local governments so far between Monument and Castle Rock to step up in this manner. VanderWerf said he and other area leaders plan to approach those governments in hopes of presenting a unified monetary front to CDOT.
       Denver government entities are even on the list. VanderWerf believes this is logical. “Some people say that the primary beneficiary [of a widening] is Colorado Springs,” he said. “We will make the counter-argument that while the widening will most definitely help us, Denver uses labor from El Paso County, which helps Denver companies to be successful.”
       In addition, he noted, there is the issue of increased air pollution, caused by thousands of cars every day being slowed or stopped by the gap's traffic congestion.

Westside Pioneer article
(Posted 9/22/17; Politics: City/County)

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