Tolling on existing I-25 lane one way to stretch Colorado's transportation dollars

By Joey Bunch, ColoradoPolitics.com Updated: July 18, 2017 at 6:16 am • Published: July 17, 2017 0
photo - Traffic moves along on Interstate 25, near 126th Ave., during the morning rush hour, Thursday, March 20, 2014. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)
Traffic moves along on Interstate 25, near 126th Ave., during the morning rush hour, Thursday, March 20, 2014. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

A new report from the Boulder-based Southwest Energy Efficiency Project asserts tolling could help drive traffic remedies on Interstate 25 through Denver.

The idea would be to take an existing lane and put on price on it. People who want to pay could use it, similar to the high-occupancy toll lane on U.S. 36 between north metro Denver and Boulder.  In addition, tolling would steer drivers to think about alternatives for getting around, according to the left-leaning group that promotes energy efficiency in Colorado and five other Western states.

The full report, authored by SWEEP's Mike Salisbury and Will Toor, is available here. Toor is a former Boulder County commissioner and Boulder mayor, as well as the former director of the University of Colorado Environmental Center.

The last legislative session yielded clear political opposition to putting tolls on publicly financed lanes. Those lined up against tolling on major interstates included the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, Senate President Kevin Grantham, a Republican from Canon City, and House Speaker Crisanta Duran, a Democrat from Denver.

"Using public funds to build a toll lane and then turn around and charge the public a hefty fee to use it, is very unpopular," Greg Fulton, executive director of the Motor Carriers Association, told Colorado Politics in April. "This approach is viewed as double taxation and many deem these lanes as Lexus lanes because of the high tolls."

High-occupancy toll lanes would raise money to help provide Colorado with transportation alternatives, including transit systems and transit passes, pedestrian and cycling lanes, and even car pools, according to the SWEEP report.

"Colorado's thriving economy continues to attract more people to move here, but the state and its cities don't have enough money to keep adding new highway lanes - and even if taxpayers agreed to pay the hefty price tag, the new lanes wouldn't solve the long-term problem," Toor said in a press release about his paper. "It's time for Colorado to try a different approach."

In an e-mail conversation about the proposal with a Colorado Politics, he acknowledged the long political odds in the current political environment.

"While it is politically very challenging to convert an existing lane to a HOT lane, this is one of the only approaches that can improve traffic without busting the budget," Toor said.

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