CDOT Director on What Drivers Want and What Makes Them Mad

The image atop a list of projects submitted by CDOT to the Colorado Transportation Commission.
The image atop a list of projects submitted by CDOT to the Colorado Transportation Commission. Colorado Department of Transportation
Colorado Department of Transportation Executive Director Shoshana Lew has been getting an earful lately.

CDOT recently released "Where We’ve Been & What We’ve Heard," a sprawling midpoint update about what the agency terms "Your Transportation Plan." The report, which is accessible below, is an ambitious effort to learn about the concerns and priorities of Colorado drivers, based in part on more than 9,000 completed surveys, responses from 16,000-plus telephone town hall participants and feedback offered up by over 3,500 attendees of events staged across the state.

In addition, the department recently submitted a list of projects to the Colorado Transportation Commission it hopes to tackle soon using funds freed up by 2017's Senate Bill 267, which authorized lease-purchase agreements on state facilities over a four-year period; that document is shared here, too. Of the $2 billion expected to be generated by the legislation, CDOT is slated to receive $1.8 billion — an amount that could be boosted by the passage of Proposition CC, a 2019 ballot measure that asks voters if they'll let the state keep tax revenues otherwise slated for refund under rules established by the controversial 1992 TABOR amendment.

While Lew is precluded from lobbying on behalf of Prop CC, the fate of which will be determined on election day tomorrow, November 5, she does assert that "the need is tremendous. We're focused in on showing the effects of the dollars we have, but we certainly aren't going to have the ability to solve all our problems with the resources we have now."

Regarding the driver survey, Lew says, "I think there were a set of substantive takeaways, as well as things that are less tangible but equally of important value — like opening a conversation with people across Colorado about what they need from their transportation system."

click to enlarge Shoshana Lew is CDOT's executive director. - DENVER7 VIA YOUTUBE
Shoshana Lew is CDOT's executive director.
Denver7 via YouTube
First, "people want us to take care of the basics. We heard that keeping the system in good repair is critical. They want to make sure that when you cross the border into Colorado, you don't see a degradation of quality on our side versus our neighbor's side. They want to make sure we have a strong foundation for whatever the mode of transportation, and that we care about the quality of the system."

In addition, she continues, "we heard, as you would expect, a lot of anxiety around managing growth and how that reflects on our roads. It's something we knew about, but that everybody said: The system has to keep up with a population that's growing and changing. And we need to think a step ahead about what we want the transportation system in our state to look like."

Finally, Lew acknowledges "a lot of frustration about a lack of options — though that sounded different in different parts of the state. In metro areas, we heard a lot about multi-modal options, so that people could travel without needing a car. But in rural parts of the state, people talked about places where there's only one road to get from point A to point B. Given the weather and the fragile ecology in many parts of the state, there was a lot of anxiety about places on the Western Slope — like, if you have to close Glenwood Canyon, there's no other way to get around it."

This wasn't the only distinction between rural and urban Coloradans, she allows. "On the positive side, there was a lot of appreciation in rural areas for our team coming out there and having conversations with the communities. But they also talked about how some parts of the rural-road network haven't seen changes for a long time because they're low-volume — and when they do get treatment, they feel they're given a superficial, Band-Aid type of treatment, and then they're told that's going to be it for a while. We took that feedback to heart in our set of recommendations to the transportation commission. We tried really hard to balance the larger metro projects with smaller projects across the state. We're making sure we treat a small project in a rural area — paving projects or work on shoulders or passing lanes, which we've heard are key safety issues — as seriously as any large project in an urban area."

The transportation commission report does indeed boast a slew of undertakings for the five regions designated by CDOT in the map below.

Building supplementary routes in little-traveled rural areas or mountainous stretches that defy expansion may not be economically feasible, Lew admits. In such scenarios, CDOT anticipates putting a greater emphasis on maintenance and preventative measures, such as more vigorous rockfall mitigation, to prevent closures of isolated yet vital routes.

As for the highway projects for Region 1, which includes the Denver metro area, six major efforts are part of the proposal, and they're not cheap. Here's the breakdown, supplemented by CDOT text and figures, plus appropriate links to past Westword coverage.
I-25 South Gap Package 3

Interstate 25 South Gap (from Monument to Castle Rock). In construction. Project costs will cover newly discovered unsuitable materials needing to be removed for roadway completion.

Capital: $17,200,000
Asset Management: $8,800,000
Total: $26,000,000

I-270: Widening from I-76 to I-70

NEPA study will evaluate new lane capacity with roadway widening and shoulders along I-270 between I-76 and I-70. Project would include full roadway reconstruction and widening of I-270. Includes bridge replacement and interchange ramp improvements.

Capital: $55,000,000
Asset Management: $145,000,000
Total: $200,000,000

I-25 Valley Highway Phases 3 and 4

Valley Highway Phase 3 and 4 improvements would consolidate heavy and light-rail tracks away from I-25 and provide space to improve safety with highway geometric and access improvements.

Capital: $60,000,000
Asset Management: —
Total: $60,000,000

I-70 West: Floyd Hill

NEPA study would lead this project to consider expanding westbound Floyd Hill from two lanes to three along Interstate 70 west.

Capital: $30,000,000
Asset Management: $5,000,000
Total: $35,000,000

I-70 PPSL — Year two 267 Commitment

This project is in construction to complete a peak period shoulder lane along I-70 west from the Veterans Memorial tunnels westward to Empire Junction.

Urban Arterial Safety Improvements (SH88-SH287 — Federal Boulevard)

Urban areterial safety investments along SH88/SH87 (Federal Boulevard) will focus on bike/ped mobility, shoulders, striping, medians, signals, access and safe crossings that align with DRCOG Vision Zero elements.
Of projects already in motion, both Central 70 and C-470 have been hit with reported delays. About the former, Lew says the length of the operation (completion isn't expected until 2022 at the earliest) should allow CDOT to catch up: "We're focused on delivering that project on time and on budget — and seeing some of the twists and turns that happen in big projects doesn't mean that's where it ends." As for C-470, she stresses that "we aired the fact that there was a problem, and we're working to get it back on schedule."

Meanwhile, she cites I-25 South Gap as an example of how the department is trying to make ongoing construction less painful for motorists. "There's a choke point that makes it difficult to do construction on such a highly utilized road — so what we're doing is trying to be really creative about how we manage the construction, by using a range of new technologies to make things better. One thing we did was to put in a variable speed limit system with new technology that allows us to slow the road down when we think it will make people safer — and when we did that during our recent three-day snowstorm, we had fewer accidents in the area."

Under previous CDOT directors Shailen Bhatt and Michael Lewis, the department vigorously touted futuristic solutions to transportation problems, including Hyperloop, a tube-based transportation system. But there's been little talk of Hyperloop lately, and earlier this year, a magnetic-levitation test track conceived by Arrivo was declared dead. Why? Lew talks about a "shift in focus" and "being kind of reality-based in terms of the realm of the possible, because we need to focus on the needs of people right now. Hyperloop is technology that hasn't been proven anywhere yet, so it's kind of an abstract conversation, and it would have a very big price tag. That's why we're starting from the perspective of what do we need to do for people and which technology is the most interesting to look at. And sometimes simple is okay."

She sees the new report as the latest phase of "a public conversation about how transportation fits into every aspect of our lives, and we're very hopeful it will continue. We're passionate about keeping that going and translating what we've heard into actionable projects with the resources we have available."

Click to read "Where We've Been & What We've Heard" and the list of CDOT projects submitted to the Colorado Transportation Commission.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts