DENVER — Coloradans love to grumble about driving. Roads seem to become more crowded every year, even every month. That means more time spent in the car commuting to work, taking the kids to soccer, or heading to the mountains when we would rather be doing something else.
Lawmakers required the Colorado Department of Transportation to provide an update on tolled express lanes. Monday, at an off-session committee meeting, to discuss future transportation legislation, lawmakers heard why CDOT defends the use of tolled express lanes.
Colorado highways have about 72 miles of operational express lanes, and another 132 miles are under development. Colorado is ranked sixth nationally in operational express lanes.
The High Performance Transportation Enterprise, an agency within the Colorado Department of Transportation, plans and arranges financing for state highway projects as part of its mission to upgrade and improve Colorado’s managed-lane infrastructure. HPTE’s presentation, a report card of sorts, touted how traffic travel times and speeds have improved for all lanes of traffic on several managed-lane projects across the Front Range.
Drivers are more likely to care more about travel times and speed, than the number of vehicles on the road. The HPTE presentation showed that Express Lane speeds on the stretch of I-25 between US 36 and 20th Street in Denver were faster than speeds in general purpose lanes.
Despite demonstrating that Express Lane travel is faster than general purpose travel, HPTE data show that 53 percent of respondents are opposed to paying a toll or fee on the South I-25 express lane project.
Legislators were told how Express Lane revenues are being leveraged to help finance several managed-lane projects across the Front Range and that Express Lanes in Colorado are projected to generate $1.27 billion in revenue. These revenues will allow the state to borrow funds for capital construction projects and repay loans and bonds on projects.
On top of that, five of seven state highway grants, at the CDOT or local level, were awarded in Colorado by the Federal Highway Administration, received funding because they were express lane projects.
Colorado has been able to pursue more highway projects than it could otherwise, because of the leveraging power of express lane revenue. Instead of delivering eight projects in five years totaling $3 billion in project value, CDOT would have been able to deliver one or possibly two of the projects, with a value of well under a billion dollars.
Several of the lawmakers at the meeting wanted answers to take back to constituents.
“Everyone who emails me never had a voice in saying whether or not an express lane, a toll road, would be to their liking,” said Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins. “How can we actually go back with a smile and tell these people that these toll roads are reasonable?”
“It is my conviction, that it is, in fact, the expanded capacity that is improving travel times, not the fact that the extra lane, that new capacity, has, in fact, been managed or tolled or put a fee on to travel,” said Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument.