Commuting on I-25 between Denver and Colorado Springs can be a treacherous drive studded with accidents and major traffic congestion.
But the worst part of the trek is between Castle Rock and Monument, an eighteen-mile stretch with only four lanes of traffic known as "The Gap." Between 2011 and 2015 alone, thirteen fatalities and 1,300 accidents were recorded, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.
To deal with the influx of commuters and improve safety, CDOT proposed accelerating construction plans for the eighteen-mile stretch last year in a project the agency has dubbed the I-25 Colorado Springs Denver South Connection.
Residents from the south Denver metro area to El Paso County were thrilled to improve mobility between the state's two economic centers. El Paso County residents even approved $25 million in local money to help fund construction in November. Douglas County chipped in to fund the preliminary study and has already spent $8 million on safety improvements along the freeway in the Castle Rock area. But the community rallying cry has turned into a shrill scream of protest now that CDOT has proposed instead to make its expansion a tolled express lane.
CDOT is on a community listening tour through Douglas and El Paso counties, but Denver County residents should also be on the lookout. Tonight, February 21, CDOT is hosting a telephone town hall from 6 to 7 p.m. for anyone interested in the project. A moderator will take questions and queue them for CDOT officials to be answered on the call.
"Holding the telephone town hall is a way for people who don't have time to physically attend a public meeting, but if they're interested in the project and want to get engaged, this is one way they can engage," says CDOT Communications Manager Tamara Rollison.
Residents can call into the town hall at 877-229-8493, followed by the pin number 112034.
CDOT is proposing to add a third lane in each direction through The Gap, but it would be tolled. Although express lanes had been one of the ideas floated early on in the process, apparently not everyone knew they were a serious contender. Express lanes only crystallized as a forerunner in December after then-incoming CDOT Executive Director Michael Lewis made the case for tolls at a news conference. El Paso County commissioners, who helped push forward the voter initiative last year, quickly protested the use of express lanes and passed a resolution opposing CDOT's proposal a couple weeks later, calling it a "form of double taxation" for county residents.
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This month, a group called Springs Taxpayers posted an online petition at change.org opposing the express-lane proposal and calling on CDOT to invest in building four lanes in each direction.
The project is undergoing a federal environmental review process, which is expected to be completed by June, and if everything goes according to plan, a construction notice can go out as early as November, according to CDOT public meeting documents. Funding has yet to be secured, and the project is projected to cost between $290 million and $570 million depending on the final design, which will be complete this summer. If the project starts on time, construction is slated for completion in 2021.
Until then, CDOT plans to schedule four more community "listening sessions" in March for Douglas County residents in addition to two large public meetings, each in Douglas and El Paso counties, sometime this spring.
"The listening sessions are very two-way. People have an opportunity to ask questions and share comments, and we keep them small to give opportunities for people to ask questions," Rollison says. "The more formal, big meetings, we can have one hundred or more [attendees]. Those haven't been scheduled; we're still revising the schedules on that."