CDOT Injects $1.6 Billion Jolt Into Highways, Rural Roads And Transit

November 21, 2019
I-25 CONSTRUCTION PALMER DIVIDEI-25 CONSTRUCTION PALMER DIVIDEHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Construction and traffic on Interstate 25 between Monument Hill and Palmer Divide.

Dozens of Colorado's roads, from jammed-up urban freeways to long-neglected rural highways, will get a much-needed shot in the arm soon.

The Colorado Transportation Commission, which oversees the state Department of Transportation, voted Thursday morning to approve nearly $1.6 billion worth of projects.

Most of that money — $1.35 billion — comes from SB 17-267, which the legislature passed two years ago. The balance comes from CDOT's own accounts and two other recent pieces of legislation. It'll be doled out over the next three years.

It's an impressive amount, but CDOT has said in the past it has a $9 billion backlog in projects. While the agency's new Executive Director Shoshana Lew no longer uses that figure, she said at a commission meeting Wednesday that the $1.6 billion isn't enough.

"The question is how, in a world of limited and insufficient resources, do we target our capacity projects to where it's going to make a difference?" she asked.

The most obvious answer to that question, in CDOT's estimation, is by directing it toward Colorado's overtaxed interstates. Interstate 70 at Floyd Hill is in line for a $100 million infusion toward a $600 million project to add a lane and add a new tunnel. I-270 scored $200 million for a complete rebuild.

But the biggest winner, garnering nearly 40 percent of the new money, would be Interstate 25. The plan calls for hundreds of millions of dollars to go toward the "gap" project between Colorado Springs and Denver, an expansion south of Fort Collins, a rebuild in Pueblo, and a handful of other upgrades along the north-south corridor.

"It exceeds any other route by orders and orders of magnitude," Lew said of CDOT's planned investment.

Some money will go toward safety improvements on urban arterial roads, like Federal Boulevard in Denver, as well. CDOT Region 1 Transportation Director Paul Jesaitis told the commission in October that around two dozen pedestrians have been killed on that road in recent years.

“We really need to do something to figure out how to get the numbers of fatalities down," he said.

A larger slice would go toward less traveled roads. CDOT allocated nearly a quarter of its payday — $331 million — to repave rural, non-interstate highways. Lew said that would constitute the largest investment in rural roads in the agency's "modern history."

Some of those, like state Highway 160 on the Eastern Plains, haven't been touched since the 1970s, said Rebecca White, director of CDOT's division of transportation development.

"We've driven this road into the ground," she told the commission.

CDOT has ignored it for decades, White said, simply because it hasn't had the money to address it, and other roads like it.

"This road probably never would have come out through our models," she said. "Simply because we have to look for the biggest bang for our buck, which tends to go toward those higher volume roads."

One final slice — about $192 million — will go toward transit projects. Those will likely include upgrades to its Bustang service, new infrastructure like park-n-rides and transit stations, and grants to local transit agencies. Staff presented an initial list to the commission Wednesday. They'll vote on it in December.

"I really feel good that this state is being represented well," commissioner Don Stanton said.